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The Most Flexible Consonants

December 2, 2012

As you may or may not know, my initials are BAG. My parents insist that this was not intentional, but I know better. As I was contemplating initials that are also English words, I realized that, if I replaced my middle initial with any other vowel, its status as an English word would remain unchanged: BAG, BEG, BIG, BOG, BUG.

Well, that's cool, I said to myself. But just how lucky am I? That is, out of the 21 = 441 distinct consonant pairs, how many will form a valid English word when each of the five vowels is placed between them? We will consider the letter Y to always be a consonant.

To answer my question, I wrote a small PowerShell program to check each possible Consonant-Vowel-Consonant word using the Microsoft Word 2007 spellchecker:

$word = New-Object -COM Word.Application

$c = ('bcdfghjklmnpqrstvwxyz' -split '')[1..21]
$v = ('aeiou' -split '')[1..5]
foreach($l1 in $c) {
:set foreach($l3 in $c) {
foreach($l2 in $v) {
if(!$word.CheckSpelling("$l1$l2$l3")) {
continue set
"$l1 $l3"

And the results:

b g (bag, beg, big, bog, bug)
d g (dag, deg, dig, dog, dug)
h t (hat, het, hit, hot, hut)
m d (mad, med, mid, mod, mud)
p p (pap, pep, pip, pop, pup)
p t (pat, pet, pit, pot, put)
s p (sap, sep, sip, sop, sup)

Only 7 consonant pairs, or 1.6% of all consonant pairs, have the every-vowel-makes-a-word property according to Word. Even 7 is generous, as there are a few words that it claims are valid that I don't agree with.


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