Longest Word Typed with only the Left Hand
by Moe Zilla

Published on Helium on 02-06-2008
Category: Writing (Other)

The answer is "stewardesses."

It's the longest word that can be typed using only the "left hand" keys on a standard keyboard. Or at least, that's the answer people usually give to this puzzle. (Technically, the word "reverberated" is just as long, and so is "desegregated" - but they're sometimes disqualified because they require using the past tense.)

But that's only the beginning of the fun. Keyboards cordon off a set of letters, and it's fun to see how many other words they can create. Surprisingly, the left side of the keyboard actually includes more than half the letters of the alphabet - a total of 15 - so there's lots of ways to create new words, while it still offers a challenge.

I once tried writing a novel, composed entirely with words typed using the left hand. (Brad stared at Debra, a sweet stewardess, as Debra's stewardess cart swerved. "Tea?" Debra greeted Brad. Brad's face creased as Debra stared. Brad detested tea....)

A simple computer script can generate a surprisingly large list of "left keyboard" words. The Unix command "grep" allows searching of a dictionary for all words containing the letters [asdfgqwertzxcvb] which do not also contain the letters [yuiophjklnm]. This generates a list of nearly 3,000 words!

Though some of those words are fairly short, 1,523 of them are at least six letters long - like "beater," "beggar," and "breeze" - while 927 of them have at least seven letters. ("Actress," "debase", and "dessert.") If the required length is longer, the number of words is fewer. There's 497 words that are at least eight letters long - including "beverage," "addressed," and "cataract."

But then it starts getting interesting. Run the script asking for words with nine letters (or more), and it narrows down to 208 words. ("Aggregate," "devastate," "stargazer"...) There's just 85 words that are ten letters or longer, including "aftertaste" and "vertebrate". Hold out for eleven letters finds just 26 words - like "reverberate" and "exaggerated."

This script also claims to have found a word that's even longer than stewardesses - namely, "devertebrated." I think I'd disqualify this word, since it's not a word that's used in every day conversation - except by people who remove backbones from a fish.

But technically, it's even longer than stewardesses.