A Straight Dope Classic from Cecil's Storehouse of Human Knowledge

What English word has five consecutive vowels?

November 9, 1990

Dear Cecil:

My pursuit of higher education has required me to study queueing theory. I have been told that "queueing" is the only word in English that has five consecutive vowels. Can you verify this? I would have asked Bill Safire, but I am not always able to get the New York Times. I rarely miss the Straight Dope.

Cecil replies:

I like the cut of your jib, lad. However, your spelling sucks. According to my trusty American Heritage Dictionary (how can you not like a dictionary that illustrates "decolletage" with a picture of Marilyn Monroe?), the participle of "queue" is "queuing" — four vowels. But fear not. An alternate spelling of the verb "meeow" is "miaou"; thus we can have cats "miaouing" — count 'em, five vowels.

He's not happy

Dear Cecil:

You slam me for giving the participle of "queue" as "queueing" (five consecutive vowels) rather than your preferred "queuing" (four vowels) without bothering to research alternate spellings? It took me four minutes to go to the Oxford English Dictionary to find both spellings. Then there's the question of usage. A sampling of the literature in this field shows over half spell it "queueing." A retraction is in order regarding my spelling's oral habits.

Cecil replies:

Damn. Another potential book sale out the window. But fortunately there are still a few who appreciate my playful wit. See below.

Dear Cecil:

Your response to Doug S. regarding words with the most consecutive vowels was "the cat's miaou"! Compounding the problem of consecutive vowels in English words is the compounding of words, especially when using the alternative spelling of the prefix. If compounding is allowed, then archaeoaerie has five consecutive vowels nested in a word which means the prehistoric nest of a bird of prey. One might get drunk on consecutive vowels while trying archaeooenology, the study of prehistoric wine. Would something prehistoric that is unequally elastic in different directions be termed archaeoaeolotropic, thereby stretching English to its six-consecutive-vowel limit?

PS: Hyphenating these words would dash my hopes of creating record words.

Cecil replies:

Very good, Paul. But one more pun and I'll have you disemvoweled. Sorry, but sometimes you gotta fight fire with fire.

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