One of the mysteries of the English language finally explained.
How many words begin with ‘x’?
The letter ‘x’ is comparatively rare in English, especially when used to begin words. The dictionary on this website, which covers today’s English, contains about 120 words that start with ‘x’, from X itself (a noun which, among other things, is used to refer to an X-shape) toxystus (a long portico in which athletes used to exercise in ancient Greece). This total includes names of people, places, and events (such as Xenophon and Xingtai).
The much larger and historical Oxford English Dictionary, which includes rare words and obsolete terms that aren’t used in current English, but which doesn’t cover proper names, contains around 400 words that begin with ‘x’. Some of the more obscure ones are the wonderful xanthodontous, which means ‘having yellow teeth’ and xsturgy, a very rare word only recorded in 1592, meaning ‘the process of polishing’.
Many ‘x’ words in English derive from Greek sources, such as xenos (‘stranger’), which gave us xenophobia, and xulos, meaning ‘wood’, from which we have xylophone and xylography (‘the art of engraving on wood’). The ‘x’ section of the dictionary also includes a high proportion of scientific and technical terms, such as xanthic (meaning ‘yellowish’) and xiphoid (‘sword-shaped’).
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