j: The Big Red Hen

One of those puzzles that keeps cropping up on the Net asks for the names of ten three-letter body parts. The trick is that there are nine fairly easy ones, but no obvious tenth. Of course, much depends on what you're willing to count as a body part. The Trigrammatic Anatomical Council (T.A.C.), headed by Mykle Hansen, came up with several possibilities, all having something to do with bodies: gender-specific items such as egg, ova, sac, and vas; items that I wouldn't call body parts per se like gut, lid, fat, and abs; slangy and off-color entries such as (rot-13 encoded for the faint of heart) nff, gvg, ohz, and phz; and, finally, my own favorite for #10 on the list (though still not entirely satisfactory to my mind), gum.

Thinking of names of body parts can only occupy you for so long. Fortunately, there are other fun activities involving three-letter words. Fifteen years or so back, for instance, Games magazine ran a contest asking for stories consisting entirely of three-letter words. (At least, I think Games is where the contest ran; if anyone knows different, let me know.) Luckily for writers willing to restrict themselves to such words, a fair number of useful common English words are only three letters long—the, and, are, was, but, etc. Unfortunately for the purposes of narrative, many words one might want to use in such a story (other articles, other tenses, most pronouns, and so on) are not of the correct length.

My family and I started a few three-letter-word stories, but never managed to finish one, and never entered the contest. In fact, I never saw the winning entries. But here, for your amusement, are some recombinations of and elaborations on the starts that we came up with. Authorship is uncertain, but probable participants in creation of these items include Ed Mendenhall and various members of the Hartman family. In some cases, punctuation (which I don't count towards the three-letter limit) is included in a word; in other cases, hyphenated six-letter words are counted as two three-letter words.

  • The big red hen has all; she won the war. She ate the map and hid the way.
  • Fog hid the sky. The mad dog dug the pit and ran the zig-zag way, all for her big paw.
  • The fun man can eat dry ice, bag fog, zap the sun-lit sea.
  • All big men can get wet and hit the ape.
  • Can shy Sue eat the new pig? Nay, she can not eat the new pig. She was too sad. Its dad was her pig, and its mom was her pa's sow. The new pig was too fat and bit her big toe. (The big toe was too fat, too.) Sue had her toe cut off, but now she was mad. She ate the new pig.

Don't "hit the ape" and "eat the new pig" sound like euphemisms? ...Anyway, moving on to newer material:

Guy and Dol

(a craps verse with more sound than sense)

You can con the one you won for, but you owe the one you bet,
And the six and one you run for, but you see the one you get;
You can die the way you pay for, you can say you had the win,
But the one you pay the way for can say all you did was sin.


And finally, a new three-letter-word story, about a certain piece of technology we're all familiar with:

Web Ode

(a fable)

Pat saw the Web. The Web was her fun and her joy. She saw the Web all day and all eve. The Web was the one for her; the Web had zip. Pat saw pix; she saw all. But now the new guy and the new gal, one and all, saw the Web too. Now the Web was too big; the Web did not zip. Pat was sad. The new guy and the new gal and all saw her say "'Bye, Web." And now Pat can not see the Web. Now Pat can see the sun, the sky, the fog, the sea.

Of course, all three-letter-word stories finish up the same way:


Best three-letter-word stories and poems submitted will be posted on the reader comments page, of course.

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