Sticking mine out in search of new categories.
As I mentioned last time, Adam Aaronson’s Wordlisted is a highly valuable Web-based resource for those who like to play with words. It’s brought a couple of new types of wordplay to my attention. One of these is the neckout. So what’s a neckout?
As Aaronson defines it, neckouts are “words whose left and right halves are anagrams, like INTESTINES.” Test it yourself and you’ll see that the first half (INTES) contains all the same letters as the second (TINES). Just cut those INTESTINES right in half, go on.
I have some issues with that definition, though. For one thing, it includes any palindrome with an even number of letters, like BOOB. I feel like palindromes are already their own thing, and less-explored letter-patterns deserve more love. (My wife would be startled to see me recommending BOOBs get less attention, but there it is.)
Also, it does not include phrases, nor does it include words whose left and right halves are identical, like COUSCOUS and HOTSHOTS. Those don’t get as much attention from word-lovers and probably merit more. (HOTSHOTS, TESTES, and MEME are the only words I can find that have repeated letter-patterns but not repeated pronunciations. Too bad they don’t conjure up a great image when you combine them.)
By any definition, neckouts are fairly rare occurrences. Working without palindromes or “self-repeaters” means that the smallest neckouts would have to be six letters, since only even-numbered letter-counts work, two-letter words don’t, and a four-letter word could only use the patterns of BOOB, BOBO, or OOOO.
Wordlisted allows you to upload your own dictionary for analysis or use its own. I tried both, using several crossword word lists. Then I eliminated palindromes and crossword-specific “joke entries,” and added in some commonly-used phrases I found for a book on anagrams some years ago, using BYU’s Corpus of American English. Here’s what I ended up with:
I AM, AM I?
I PUT IT UP
LET IT LIE
ONE TO TEN
SAME AS ME
A few of these are proper names (CHEECH, OENONE) and one—BURGERMEISTER MEISTERBURGER—is an old Christmas-special villain that I mostly let by out of sentiment. A few more are phrases but generally common ones. With such a small set, maybe we shouldn’t be choosy. Still, the crossword lists have more improbable phrases in them like DUSTY STUDY and LIKEN TO TOLKIEN, and I excluded those.
Oh, and why are neckouts called “neckouts”? The answer to that little mystery is another phrase from a neckout-focused puzzle produced some years back by master constructor Patrick Berry. In addition to a few of the words and phrases mentioned above, he used a marquee entry, STUCK ONE’S NECK OUT.
Nice to see a prominent wordplayer interested in this type…SAME AS ME.