I have a 3,742 page dictionary, the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary 6th Edition (Oxford University Press, 2007). 

Out of all those thousands of sheets, X words take up just three. More than 1/3 of the first page for X is covered in definitions for just the letter X: from “X” is the twenty-fourth letter of the English alphabet and the twenty-first in the “ancient Roman” alphabet to numbered definitions from X-factor to X-out. I couldn’t think of an inspiring X word today, so I decided I’d just learn the definitions of the first ten words following.

The second X word, X-acto, I usually hear paired with the kind of knife responsible for one of our most terrifying moments in parenting, when we learned Hoot had learned to use chairs for climbing. I suppose if we lived in Xanadu we’d have servants in charge of more carefully organizing our household and anticipating disasters. Speaking of my housekeeping skills, I only recently threw out the xanthum gum responsible for my failed experiment with gluten-free challah baking but my OED tells me I could’ve also used it for oil-drilling and mixing up fake blood.

The Greek word xanthos means yellow and forms the root for xanthene, a tricyclic compound that can be used to create “brilliant, often fluorescent dyes,” and xanthelasma, or yellowish patches on the skin caused by lipid (fatty) deposits.

Apparently we have the cartenoid pigment xanthin to thank for lovely yellow plants. But we really ought to worship the crystalline purine xanthine which is in caffeine and two less pleasant but equally necessary parts of life, blood and urine.

Animals who are “excessively” yellow suffer from xanthism. The dictionary didn’t tell me what “excessively yellow” means for a creature’s health, and neither did a quick Google Search. Since I’m rather fond of the color yellow, I was slightly offended. Would this room be said to struggle with xanthism?



I told Josh I would write sentences for the first ten definitions of words starting with X, like in an elementary grade school assignment and he said, “You’re really giving up” on this blog challenge. I felt a bit like a Xanthippe, or “a scolding or bad tempered woman or wife.” My goal was just to make sure I sat down and wrote a bit each day, on different subjects. This might not be the most exciting post, but I probably learned the most from it. I will make it to the end of this challenge.

3 thoughts on “X

  1. Ah, a kindred person who can trip off on a tangent. [–Wish there were an “x” word for verging off in discovery!!


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