Friday, January 30, 2009

NPR Sunday Puzzle, Sun, Jan 25, 2009 - Solution

Last Sunday's puzzle on NPR's Weekend Edition was this:
Think of a word that starts and ends with the letter 'm'; drop the first 'm,' insert an 'o' somewhere and you'll get a new word that means the same thing as the first word. What words are these?
This struck me immediately as a puzzle TEA could help with. When I couldn't think of anything within a few minutes, I started up the software and typed the pattern m*m.

This asks TEA to search for all the words starting and ending with the letter 'm'. I didn't think this would give too many results because 'm' (a 3-point letter in Scrabble) is a fairly constraining letter.

It helps a lot, of course, that TEA classifies words by how well-known they are: the Core English list contains the 65,000 most common words in English; the results from searching it appear in the top pane.

I thought it likely that common words would have been chosen for the puzzle and indeed the answer maxim was the sixth result shown. When the 'm' is removed and an 'o' is inserted, this becomes the synonym axiom.

As often in English, the dual influence of Latin and Greek results in two words with roughly the same meaning: maxim comes from the Latin maxima, while axiom comes from the Greek axioein to think worthy.

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