The Making of Wordle

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S1: The following podcasts contains explicit language.

S2: Hello, I’m Nicole Holliday, a linguistics professor at the University of Pennsylvania,

S1: and I’m Ben Zimmer, language columnist for The Wall Street Journal.

S2: And this is spectacular vernacular, a podcast where we not only explore language. We also

S1: play with

S2: it. This week, our guest is Josh Wordle, a software engineer and the man behind the massively popular new online game Wordle. And later, we’ll try to stump a listener with a brand new word play puzzle. Hey, Ben, it’s great to see you again. I know it’s been a crazy few weeks for you. Last time I saw you, you were presiding over the American Dialect Society’s annual Word of the Year vote.

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S1: Yes. What was a fun time? You know, we held it virtually for the second year. We had to go virtual, but we got a very nice online attendance for our word of the year vote. You know, we actually really kind of expand our our tech capacities to let everybody in who wanted to be there. But it was, I think, a good experience all at all.

S2: Yeah. People were like busting down the virtual door to get into 000t. It was very exciting. And on the last spectacular vernacular, we spoke with Peter Sokolowski of Merriam-Webster and Fiona McPherson of the OED about their dictionaries respective words of the year Merriam-Webster chose vaccine and the OED chose vax. But what did the linguists and Dialect Society members go with?

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S1: Well, the AIDS American Dialect Society almost went for vax. That came in second, but the overall winner was insurrection. So, yeah, that was an interesting choice. One reason that it’s interesting is because I noticed that when we get together to pick these words of the year, often there’s a kind of a recency bias where people are just more attracted to words that popped up at the end of the year. And sometimes they forget about what happened at the beginning of the year, not for 2021. So, you know, the attack on the U.S. Capitol happened right at the beginning of the year, and it is still very much on people’s minds a year later. So, you know this word insurrection, that’s the one that people converged on in the wake of the attack to just try to make sense of it all, try to make sense of this, you know, threat to democracy and and what it all means, and it continues to be a key word in our discourse. Of course, we have the investigations into the insurrection still going on and a lot of concerns about what the attack could mean for future elections.

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S2: Yeah. And it’s worth saying, too, that we were voting on January 7th. Yeah. So it was right after the anniversary. And for the people that were attending the conference in person, we were in Washington, D.C. So maybe still a little recency. But I I know there was heated competition between a lot of pandemic words and the political and cultural words. So it’s very interesting that the ads went in a different direction than the two major dictionaries that we talked about before. I’m really looking forward to seeing what the word of the year is for 2022, when we meet again next January.

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S1: Yeah, and we’ll see if we can actually do that one in person, unlike the last two years. But in addition to your participation in word of the year at AIDS, you are also busy with this larger conference going on. At the same time, the Linguistics Society of America annual meeting, which was held right there in Washington, D.C. and I gather you got to see some great research, right?

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S2: I did. Yeah, I actually presented my own work on how people hear and evaluate the different Siri voices and how this is impacted by the properties of the voice itself. So the quality of the voice. But I also got a chance to walk around the, let’s say, the linguistics society and talked to a few other folks about their research, and I’m excited to share some of those conversations with you and the listeners. Great. I went to the poster session on the Saturday of the conference, which was in a big room filled with posters about research, and I was able to record a few of the researchers telling us about their brand new work.

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S1: And I guess you saw a lot of posters dealing with not just Spanish, but actually like English, Spanish bilingualism, right?

S2: Yeah, I might have been a little drawn to those because was one of my interests. But instead of me telling you about it, maybe I’ll just let the researcher speak for themselves. So first up, we’re going to hear from a team of researchers from Penn State.

S3: My name is Matt Carlson from Penn State University. I’m going to tell you about some research that we did with two undergraduate fellows, Emily Herman and Angelica Brill collaborating with Annie Olmstead. Also, we’re interested in foreign accents, and everybody knows that when you learn a second language, you usually speak with an accent. And one of the reasons for that is that you likely hear words in your second language differently because of your first language. In fact, sometimes you hear things that aren’t even there in Spanish speakers do this, which is why you might hear a Spanish speaker say, I speak a Spanish Spanish doesn’t have any words with an s consonant at the beginning, and Spanish speakers tend to hear it. And as a result, they put it in when they speak English. So we’re interested in when that vowel comes in, and we created a bunch of Spanish sounding fake words. We had a Spanish speaker record them and we played them for people with and without that vowel at the beginning to see when they could tell the difference.

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S2: So from this work, Professor Carlson and his team ended up finding out that Spanish speaking adults who are learning English actually hear an initial vowel in a word like school. So they’re hearing a school and then they produce it that way. So they have, they call it like an illusory effect the illusion of a vowel. And this is because of the Phonology or rather the way that the sounds are organized in Spanish, carrying into the way that folks are hearing words when they’re learning English. Importantly, though, this is not a phenomenon unique to Spanish speakers learning English. Any adult who’s learning a second language will likely show that kind of influence or interference from their first language when their second because they’re kind of mapping their old system onto learning and new. Yeah, that is

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S1: very cool work and actually gets to how people process language like the nuts and bolts of that. That’s very neat. You also talked to a couple of students from your alma mater, Ohio State, about their work on how words get borrowed into Spanish, right?

S2: Yes. So actually, my BA is in linguistics and also Hispanic linguistics from Ohio State. So super interested to talk to these guys. These researchers were interested in what kind of words can be imported from other languages into Spanish. And there is three ways to do this which I’ll let them tell you about.

S4: So my name is Justin Pinta. I’m a Ph.D. student at the Ohio State University, and I’m presenting with my with my colleague here, Hugo Salgado, and our project is about loan verb integration in Spanish. We built a corpus of lots of different loan verbs in Spanish from across 12 different centuries and 24 different languages. And then we saw what the patterns were, and we ended up finding out that the so-called light verbs strategy, which is a strategy in which you use a verb like to do or to make to adapt alone. So in Spanish, we have A-Z so we can have a verb like to click in English, which would be I said CliQ in Spanish. That tends to happen in code switching environments and not generally in stable loans.

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S2: So considering when people are moving between Spanish and English, for example?

S4: Correct? Yes, absolutely. And I said click is actually a rare kind of exception to that because it is a stable loan. But in general, we don’t see that very often. What we usually see sticking with the click example because we haven’t have three examples here is something like clicker or clicker.

S2: So basically, they found changes over time with respect the way that words get borrowed into Spanish. So in Spanish, verbs all end in a vowel. And ah, so the options, as he mentioned for something like click would be offset. Click to do a click, click or click. And there’s many fewer examples like the Assaad click happening in the last couple hundred years, and they found that the type of borrowing is influenced by the types of contexts the words are used in. So if people are speaking English and switching into Spanish, they’re more likely to say something like ACEP click instead of clicking

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S1: and investing to. There’s a distinction between click here and then just taking out that bill and making you just click Add.

S2: Yeah, there’s there’s some complications related to that, to having to do with the kinds of consonants that the borrowing ends in, and it’s very complicated. But the general pattern was very cool to see.

S1: Very cool. And yeah, I mean, languages are borrowing words from other languages all the time, but it’s cool to see, you know, the exact patterns of how they do all of that.

S2: Absolutely. And finally, I saw a cool poster by a student at the University of New Mexico about how the meaning of some words is also supported by the way that they’re pronounced.

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S5: My name is David PI’s from University of New Mexico, and I’m working on research that is called verbal semantics and Phonology. Like when you say, for example, the word big, you would use sounds in your speech to in your gestures to make it similar to the concept of big. So you would say something like this is a big problem or the opposite is true when you say, like, this is a small problem, so it is a tiny problem, you would raise your your intonation, your pitch and maybe pinch with your fingers and things like that, right? So that’s the kind of study I’m doing. I’m looking at how people talk to each other in normal conversations. No, no particular restrictions there. And you see how people use gesture, their hands, their face, their body in general, in their speech, the sounds of speech to reinforce or highlight some of the information that they are conveying in conversation.

S1: Yeah, now that’s a very interesting connection there between word meaning and pronunciation and even gesture all being kind of together. And in his research, he’s talking about how that works in varieties of Spanish, as I’m sure works differently from English and how that all fits together, right?

S2: Yeah. So he gave examples in English for our Anglophone audience and the audience that he had there. But the same thing happens in Spanish. So he talked about there’s this word out retail, which means something temporal. Some people think it means right now, and some people think it means in a little bit. And the pronunciation? Can vary depending on which our retail you’re using, so it’s very interesting to see that as well.

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S1: Yeah, well, that’s really neat. It sounds like you had a great time there at the LSA poster session. And you know, there’s definitely some exciting linguistic research being conducted all over the U.S. right now.

S2: It was very fun to talk to these researchers and to get to do a little on the ground linguistic reporting. I was just going shoving microphones in people’s faces, which was great.

S1: That’s great. Well, thank you for being our LSA correspondent after the break. Our interview with Wordle creator Josh Wardle. Welcome back to spectacular vernacular. Our guest today is Josh Wardle, a software engineer based in Brooklyn who invented an online word game you just might be familiar with. If you change one letter in his last name, you’ll get the name of the game. It’s Wordle. Back in October, Josh released Wordle to the world with a simple, elegant interface for guessing a five letter word every day. And in December, the game went viral when Josh added a way to share results in the form of little colored blocks, which you may have seen all over your social media feeds. It’s the little word game that could, with millions of people now playing it around the world. Welcome to the show, Josh. Thank you.

S6: Thank you, Ben, Nicole. Thanks for having me.

S2: We’re super excited. So, Josh, you’re an artist, product manager, an engineer who’s worked at Reddit, among other places. What inspired you to create this game? Was it just a pandemic project like so many of us have been dabbling in these days or what happened?

S6: Yeah. So the goal with Wordle actually was to create a word game for my partner to play. So she and I got really into the New York Times crossword, and then she plays a lot of spelling bee as well. We were

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S2: big fans of Spelling Bee, who are

S6: big fans of the bee, OK? It’s a bit too much for me, to be honest, but it was a bit simpler, more my speed. But yeah, so I really wanted to. And she like plays these games and we were really enjoying crosswords and we’ve kind of graduated or not graduated. We moved to cryptic crosswords. Now we’re doing those excellent, excellent. And yes, I wanted to try making a game that she, she and I would enjoy playing together. And Wordle was, yeah, it was the result of that. I had actually created it a prototype of it back in 2013, and it was pretty much the mechanics were the same. Some of the big differences were it was endless play. As soon as you finish one puzzle, you can move on to the next one, which Wordle doesn’t do. Wordle only has. You can only play once a day, and it’s the same word for everyone. And then another big thing with that original prototype was I didn’t use any word list filtering. I just dumped every five letter word in the English language from whatever dictionary I found a line. And so there are some very obscure words in the English language that I have never heard of. And so it was more and so the solution could often be one of those words. So you would often end up kind of more like brute forcing or using your knowledge about how a word might be constructed. And so it was a very different game, and I shared it with a few friends and everyone was like, Yeah, maybe there’s something here, but it’s just like, you play it for a bit and you put it down and never come, never come back to it. But so when I decided that I wanted to create a game for my partner, I had had this idea that maybe there was something there and I kind of brought it back up and I made some changes kind of more in line with games like the crossword and spelling bee. And that really led to its success, I think.

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S1: So, yeah, I mean, it’s very cool. And like I can see how it was inspired by some long standing games like people might know about Jado, which was this pencil and paper game created back in the 50s and then at least in the U.S. and not sure about elsewhere. There’s a there was a game show called Lingo in the 80s and that got revived a little later on by the The Game Show network. So those games all involve, you know, guessing words by trying out other words and finding out which letters match. But Wordle really seemed to bring something new to the table. I mean, there’s just something really pleasing about the design and the function that kind of elevates it, and I’m not quite sure. I mean, maybe you could fill us in and illuminate, what do you think that really just makes it work? Is it just you keep things so simple in terms of the gameplay? Do you think that that’s the thing, that’s the key to the success of this game?

S6: I mean, that’s a really good question. So I used to work in Silicon Valley, and I’m kind of aware of, you know, the things that especially with games that you’re meant to do with people’s attention, like you’re trying to capture as much of people’s attention as you can. So that involves things like, you know, endless play or sending them push notifications or asking them for sign up information. And I mean, kind of philosophically, I enjoy doing the opposite of all those things, doing all the things that you’re not meant to do, which I think is bizarrely had this effect where the game feels really human and just enjoyable. And that really resonates, you know, kind of where we’re at right now in the world in light of COVID. And then also kind of trying to figure out like what is tech, you know, like what was the tech become? I think that really resonates with people and no ads as well, no monetization. I think all these decisions, like people ask me a lot about these things and it is like I was literally just making a game for my partner and I made some decisions that we would like. I think there are some things that I some subtle things that I think are Wordle does do quite well. Like one is it will change the. Keyboard to reflect your status in the game, which was something that I came up with because I find it hard to move back and forward between the keyboard, and I think that is a very subtle feature, but I think kind of changes the game a lot it like really helps you play the game. And with all these kind of word games, it’s kind of up to the creator. How much help you want to give the solver. And that just felt like a really nice, simple way to like, ease people on. And I think a lot of people who don’t normally play word games are enjoying Wordle because of things like that.

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S2: Yeah, I really like the keyboard color change. It feels like Wordle wants me to be successful. So it’s like, Oh, we’re all going to do this together. Another key to Wordle success online has been the ability to share results. You know, when I first started seeing the colored boxes showing in people’s Twitter feeds, I wasn’t sure what to make of it. It happened very early for me because I know a lot of linguists and linguists were like, very excited about this, and I was like, What are these mystery squares in December? And there wasn’t a hashtag or a URL, just the name Wordle with the score and then the yellow and green emoji squares. Did you design it that way to give the game like a sort of mysterious element and intrigue people? Or sort of what’s the idea behind that?

S6: Yeah. So first thing I have to point out, I did not come up with the emoji grid like Wordle as I built it and it got some. It got picked up in a New York Times newsletter and people started playing it. And there was no this chagrined that you’re talking about didn’t exist, and it got for some reason, which I don’t fully understand. The game got big in New Zealand and New Zealand. Twitter was playing a lot of the game and someone out there who I don’t know, she’s called Elizabeth s. I only know her on Twitter. She started recreating her solutions each day, using emoji as a kind of spoiler free. There were like slight spoilers if you really want to be pedantic about it, but not really. She came up with the emoji grid as a way of sharing her results with other people. Like previously, people were just saying Wordle in three. And then, she added, This visual component that kind of tells a story like every time you play Wordle, it’s a bit of a journey, right? And the emoji grid really helps share that. So I saw other people start doing it and then manually typing out the emoji grid like going back and forward and referencing it. So I’m like, I can make this. I can just pull this into the game. And obviously, that’s had a huge, huge impact in helping it go viral. Not including a link was again, one of those things that’s like the opposite of what you meant to do. Like, if your goal is growth, then you should definitely include a link to your thing. But I and so originally I had a link. But when you share it on Twitter, it like tries to show a big, like card preview of the thing. And I was like, It feels kind of spammy. It feels like I want them to share it because I get something. Just removing it made all that so simpler they were sharing for themselves. And but I do think you’re right, a byproduct of that, which wasn’t my intention at the time is this kind of mistake mistake, you know, you’re either in the know or not, and people kind of like that, like figuring out what they what they mean or being infuriated by all these people posting comments questions. Yeah, I

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S2: had. Yeah, I think it’s really fun. You know, it’s sort of the spoiler free idea of it. I my partner started playing after me and we didn’t talk about it. I just saw him start posting his results and it was like, Oh my God, now we have to talk about this. And I said him my results one day and he was like, What the heck did you guess? In like the third round that you didn’t get the answer, and it was the day where the answer was drink, and I was like, Oh, this is a British game, so I guess prank. And he was like, What is that word? Why did you know that? But he saw that I had everything but the first letter and just like, went the wrong way. So it was kind of it made it more fun for us to like, talk about the experience of Wordle that day.

S6: Amazing. Amazing. So although he gets seen a lot on Twitter, like most people I think aren’t sharing their results on Twitter, they’re sharing them with like friends and family in like group chats and things like that. And it’s Wordle as emerged. I get a ton of emails and people. I got one yesterday from someone saying they have a teenage son. They’re finding it hard to connect with him, like Wordle is something the father and the son do together each day. And I was just like, Oh my, oh my word, that’s amazing. And just like, it’s such a low light, you say it. So it is fairly easy, like it wants you to succeed, you know? But it’s just difficult enough where it feels challenging and you feel a sense of accomplishment. And so having it be able to be shared in like with friends and family is just a really low effort way of checking in and letting people know you care about them. And you know there’s something to this new to discuss each day if you want to.

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S1: Yeah, that’s really nice. So since Wordle went viral, it has inspired a seemingly endless array of spoofs and knock offs, and some of those Wordle clones are pretty creative, I got to say. I’ve seen swear it all where the answers are all swear words. And then there’s Queer Idol, which puts a gay spin on the game. And then there’s absurd oil, which is an adversarial game that tries to make you guess for as long as possible. I’m just curious what you make of all of these. Let’s call them homages. And do you have any favorites of these Wordle clones that you’ve seen?

S6: No, I love them as a someone who creates stuff like to see people so inspired by something that you created that they want to riff on it. That’s like amazing. That makes me feel so good. One that you didn’t mention that I’ve really enjoyed is quite how you say it’s like, Let Ali on let. Oh, I say in that. And it’s just one letter each day. You’ve got twenty six guesses and you have to guess which it is. It produces an emoji. Great for you, but it’s just like a long string of all your misses and then the final agreement. I thought that was quite quite good satire. So, yeah, yeah, I yeah, I really like them. The adversarial stuff is very interesting. I think like the way they go about it, and I think that’s part of the appeal of Wordle, right? Like, it’s got people who just want to play, who’ve never played a word game before. Enjoy it, but people who want to go really deep on it and they’re thinking about like the statistical analysis and like letter frequencies and things like that. There’s something for that as well. So it’s like really managed to appeal to all these different kinds of of people.

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S2: Yeah. So now that Wordle is being played by millions, we’re seeing some people get cranky about it, of course. And we heard about similar reactions when we interviewed Sam Mazursky about the spelling bee, since that’s a game where people love to complain about which words are included and acceptable and which ones aren’t. There was a bit of a tizzy among the British players of Wordle when the answer one day was Favre spelled the American way without a u. So it would be five letters. Do you pay attention to any of that or are you just happy? People are playing,

S6: so the word list is another one of those things that I think I put a fair amount of effort into. Actually, my partner and I, we collaborated on it. Like I said, the first time I made the game, it just used every five letter words. And I think it wasn’t very fun because I try and think about it if the first time you play Wordle. The answer is a word you’ve never heard of. I think you would feel cheated like I think the game would feel unfair. And so we put a fair amount of effort filtering like there around. I don’t know, 13000 five letter words. And we put a fair amount of effort into filtering those down into a subset of around 2500 solution words that can be the solution any day. And the way we did that actually was I built another game before this one, which was took all thirteen thousand five letter words and displayed a word and it displayed three buttons. I know this word. I don’t know this word. I kind of maybe know this word and my partner, she just wanted to mine this game. She was going through some tough times. She just wanted some. She could sit down and mindlessly do it. So she categorized all 13000 words, Oh, you know, and then and then because I’m making the game for her, you know, it’s like very focused on what she knows and doesn’t know. And then we took that and revised it a bit further. So I was chatting with her this morning actually about like, how do you feel about the favorite thing? And she was like, I’m American, you made the game for me.

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S2: It’s a it’s a love story at the end of the day.

S6: Yeah, yeah. But what is interesting is the assumptions people make like people assume that no British spelling will appear as a solution, which how are the Americans going to feel, you know, when and if that happens?

S1: So stay tuned.

S6: Yeah, yeah, yeah. But there is an element of it because I made the game for she and I. I don’t actually know what the word is going to be tomorrow, because if I did, I wouldn’t be able to play the game. So I we filtered all those words down a randomized them, and that’s it. I don’t look at them. So I live in fear, actually, that tomorrow is going to be something heinous and it’s going to, like, really upset someone or, you know, maybe a really bad word, you know, or just obscure words slip through the filtering. Somehow, we had to think it’s messy, messy with an accent. It’s a type of billiards shot, which I’d never heard of. I think that that slipped through our filtering somehow, and that was in the early days. The New Zealand contingent got very upset. You know, I don’t I totally understand. So, yeah,

S1: so it’s also really fascinating to see how people take different approaches to playing. You know, some people use a different starting word every day and some, you know, there are these computationally minded people out there who are trying to figure out the optimal gameplay play, starting with words that do the best job at narrowing down the guesses.

S2: The linguists and the computer scientists have different approaches for this, apparently. Yeah.

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S1: And of course, you know, you give us personal stats so we can all obsess over our stats. I know I do. Are you also keeping track of the player’s stats behind the scenes in it? Have you noticed any interesting results from that, from data that you’ve collected on the play?

S6: So I am basically I’m collecting when you finish it in three. I know that someone somewhere finished it in three. I don’t know anything else about you, but I haven’t done anything with that data because I’ve been far too busy, like I have a full time job and stuff. But the idea was maybe after each day I could share how the previous day had gone for everyone. And so you could put yourself against people globally. But I’m kind of wary about that stuff. You know, it’s like then people, it makes it more competitive or makes it more competitive with other people vs. competitive with yourself. Or even just I’m fine with people competing with their friends and family. But when it kind of gets there’s a if there was a global leaderboard, I don’t know. I worry about people’s motivations there, so maybe I’ll do something in the future. But no, no immediate plans.

S2: Yeah, let’s get. Let’s keep it a little more friendly, I guess, through the moment. Well, Josh Wordle, thank you for joining us today. Is there anything else you want to share with our listeners?

S6: No, I don’t think so. This is amazing. Thank you.

S2: Well, thanks so much for being with us. And after the break, it’s time for some wordplay of our own. Welcome back. Now it’s the time in the show where we play with language for

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S1: our wordplay quiz. This week, we’re very pleased to be joined by listener Penelope Lee of Stratham, New Hampshire. Welcome to the show, Penelope.

S7: Hi, thank you.

S2: Penelope is the winner of a previous wordplay challenge, and if you’d like an opportunity to come on and be quizzed by us. Stay tuned for a new listener challenge at the end of the segment. Penelope, do you enjoy weird games and puzzles?

S7: I do. I do the crossword every day.

S2: Awesome. So you’re dedicated to quizzer?

S1: Yes. Well, that’s great. And I have to say, I really like your name and you know your first name. It lends itself to wordplay. You may have noticed over the course of your life that you know Penelope can be divided into two words pen and elope. Is that something that has occurred to you?

S7: I never noticed elope before, but I’ve been called many different things. Sure. So like Penelope?

S1: Right? Well, you know, do you do cryptic crosswords at all? Are you familiar with the cryptic crossword?

S7: I’m familiar with them. I don’t have not done a lot of them.

S1: I saw a recent clue in a cryptic crossword that went like this. Penelope sent the writer away to marry without a fuss. And you know, with that, the writer, there is a clue for pen. So if you send pen away from Penelope, you’re left with the word meaning to marry without a fuss or elope, right?

S2: And here’s another fun fact if you replace the word pen in your name with the name of an animal, you get the name of another animal.

S7: Can you figure that out? Antelope, yeah.

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S2: Antelope. OK, you’re going to. You’re going to kill this. You’re great.

S1: So right? Yeah, you take A. And you replace the word pen in Penelope with Ant and you get antelope. And that bit of wordplay has actually inspired. The quiz will be challenging you with, we’ll call it Animal Crossing. So for each question, you’re going to start with a word like we did with Penelope. Then you’ll replace a shorter word inside it with an animal name to get another animal name like and an antelope. How does that sound? That sounds good.

S2: I can do that. So here’s your first one. Start up with a seven letter word for a strong feeling of enthusiasm or excitement. Remove a four letter word that’s the opposite of fail and replace it with a four letter name of a marine mammal with flippers, and you’ll get the name of another marine mammal with flippers.

S7: Wow, that’s a lot of steps. OK, so the first thing you said was a

S2: seven letter word for strong feeling of enthusiasm or excitement.

S7: Can you give me the first letter?

S2: Let’s start with the second part. Maybe. So think of a four letter word that’s the opposite of fail

S7: that’s passed,

S2: right? OK. So is there a seven letter word that has passed in it? That means enthusiast

S7: Chanel

S2: passion. Passion? Cool. So then you got there. So you’re removing past and replacing that with the four letter name of a marine mammal with flippers.

S7: Marine mammal with flippers.

S2: And that gives you the name of another marine mammal with flippers

S1: that might make a barking sounds sea

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S7: lions sea lion.

S1: Now we’re going to start with an eight letter word, meaning steadfast and unwavering like a loyal supporter. We’re going to take off a four letter word for a skin blemish. Replace it with the name of a big cat, and you’ll end up with the name for a male horse.

S7: Male for stallion. So Italian.

S1: Oh OK, you’re working at working this from from the end this time?

S7: Yeah, I guess so.

S1: OK, that’s fine. So that’s where you want to get to. So let’s think of the first word where you might find a four letter word for a skin blemish inside of it. Can you think of a four letter word for a skin blemish might be associated with a witch for it? OK. So an eight letter word with word in it would be Star Wars stalwart. Remove the wart and an

S7: add lion lion.

S1: There you

S7: go. Yes. All right. Excellent stallion.

S2: So for the next one, we’ll start with the seven letter name of a pet that is similar to a gerbil. Remove a three letter word for a pork product and replace it with the informal name of a big hopping animal. And you’ll get a name for a farm animal that makes a lot of noise.

S7: OK. This one I got. So this one starts with hamsters that the first one hamster? Yeah. And then we took out, then we took out the ham and added Roo. So as rooster. Yay.

S1: Well done. You’re definitely getting the hang of it now. We have one final one for you. We’re going to start with a five-letter word for something that a hamster might. Run on remove a three letter word for a long, slippery fish. Replace it with the name of a deer with big antlers and you’ll get the name of a snail with a spiral shell.

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S7: So this one starts off with the saying that our hamster runs on is a wheel right? Yes, correct. And you take the wheel out the eel and you add. OK, so it’s well, OK. That’s right. You got it. And the only reason I know that is because of Animal Crossing, because there are, well, it’s an Animal Crossing. I’ve never seen a well or heard the word Animal Crossing

S2: all come full circle because we called the game and

S7: I know that was good planning. Yes, very

S2: well done, Phonology. Thank you so much

S7: for coming on and playing our quiz. Thank you. It was fun.

S1: Well, now we have an Animal Crossing challenge for all of our listeners. Start with a six-letter word for a bug that’s also the name of a car. Remove a three letter word for a bug that buzzes. Replace it with the name of a popular pet. And you’ll get a term for ranch animals. Think you’ve got it? Send your answer to us at Spectacular at Slate.com with Quiz in the subject line of your email. Please include the six-letter word before the switch and the six-letter word after the switch from the correct entries will randomly select a winner who will receive a Slate Plus membership for one year. Or if you’re already a Slate Plus member, you’ll get a one year extension on your subscription, and we may bring you on the show to face a new wordplay challenge. Once again, that’s spectacular at Slate.com with Quiz in the subject line, and please respond by Midnight Eastern Time on January 26th, and we’re very pleased to announce the winner of the contest from our January 4th episode. Meredith figured out that a word that refers to indicators or predictors of future trends would be bellwethers. And if you change, the short is to short eyes New Zealand style, you get the name of the singer Bill Withers. Congratulations, Meredith.

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S2: Thanks to Penelope Leaf for joining us. That’s it for this week. We hope you enjoyed the show. If you have remember to subscribe wherever you get your podcasts, if you are subscribing on Apple Podcasts, please rate and review us while you’re there. It helps other listeners find the show and please consider subscribing to Slate Plus. Slate Plus members get benefits like full access to all the articles on Slate.com. Zero ads on any Slate podcast and bonus episodes of shows like Slow Burn and One Year. It’s only $1 for the first month. To learn more, go to Slate.com. Slash spectacular plus

S1: thanks again to Josh Wardle for being our guest this week. Spectacular vernacular is produced by Jasmine Ellis with help today from Kevin Bendis Asha Saluja is managing producer for Slate Podcasts.

S2: We’ll be back in two weeks with more spectacular vernacular. Thanks for listening!