This is in the spirit of the What is a Word/Phrase™ series started by JLee with a special brand of Phrase™ and Word™ puzzles.

If a word conforms to a special rule, I call it a Shy Word™.

Use the following examples below to find the rule.

Shy Words

And, if you want to analyze, here is a CSV version:

Error: 405 Method Not Allowed
  • 116
    $\begingroup$ Best CSV version ever. $\endgroup$
    – Marius
    Commented Sep 6, 2016 at 12:21
  • 24
    $\begingroup$ Gotta love how the comment has more upvotes than the Q and the A $\endgroup$
    – bleh
    Commented Sep 6, 2016 at 23:23
  • $\begingroup$ Great puzzle. Thx! $\endgroup$
    – JLee
    Commented Apr 27, 2022 at 16:07

3 Answers 3


A Shy Word™ is a word ...

... whose letters nestle, so that a part of a letter is tucked up beneath a part of the other letter.

This is most obvious when the sloped stems of the A go under the stems of a V or W, but can still be seen when the right part of the L goes under the curve of a U or an O. Also note how no letters of Shy Words™ have vertical stems except at the beginning or at the end.

This is known as kerning in typography, where some letter pairs have a smaller gap than usual in order to avoid unaesthetic gaps.

There is no CSV version, because ...

... kerning depends on the visual representation and therefore on the font. In earlier instances of the "What is a Word" puzzles, a typewriter font was used for the CSV. Monospaced or typewriter fonts don't have kerning; all letters have the same width in such fonts.

  • 7
    $\begingroup$ How does this explain PAT being shy, and PATH being unshy? $\endgroup$
    – Sconibulus
    Commented Sep 6, 2016 at 12:44
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ And CLAW being unshy? $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 6, 2016 at 13:03
  • 8
    $\begingroup$ @Sconibulus: Because all letter pairs must be kerned: TH, CL and LA aren't. (Maybe they are technically, because they are moved closer to each other to reduce the visual space, but none of them undercuts the other.) $\endgroup$
    – M Oehm
    Commented Sep 6, 2016 at 13:08
  • 9
    $\begingroup$ +1 for mentioning kerning instead of just "squishing the letters together" $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 6, 2016 at 16:00
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Kerning is actually more general. Increasing the space between certain letter pairs (or triples) is also kerning (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kerning#Kerning_values). $\endgroup$
    – LarsH
    Commented Sep 7, 2016 at 1:37

What I can conclude from the given dataset is that

There has to be at least one perfectly vertical line on either side of the space between the letters in order for a word not to be shy. If that perfectly vertical line is absent, we can call that word "shy".

OK. Let me clarify my answer a bit. Here are the rules.

  1. Letters having a perfectly vertical line are letters like B, D, K etc. (on the left), and H, M, N etc. (on both the sides). Note that there is no letter having a perfectly vertical line only on the right.

  2. Let us name them P-L (ones with only towards the left) and P-B (having on both the sides) letters.

  3. Now if the word has atleast one P-B letter, it is not shy.

  4. And if the word has 2 P-L letters, it is not shy.

  5. And the words having only one P-L letter must have it anywhere but in the first position.

  6. All the rest of the words would be shy.

  • $\begingroup$ How does this prove that CLAW (watch the L, no perfect vertical line there) is non-shy™? $\endgroup$
    – EKons
    Commented Sep 6, 2016 at 13:28
  • $\begingroup$ L has a perfect vertical line for the space before $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 6, 2016 at 13:34
  • $\begingroup$ I mean, the C doesn't though, and the A doesn't. Please be more clear; what I understand is that the letter before and the letter after must have at least 1 vertical line. Also, L A does not have a vertical line between the two letters if you mean that. (space after) $\endgroup$
    – EKons
    Commented Sep 6, 2016 at 13:36
  • $\begingroup$ Not exactly, only one direction (either left or right) would suffice to be not shy $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 6, 2016 at 13:46
  • $\begingroup$ Also, I am new to this site so please bear with my editing skills $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 6, 2016 at 13:47

In a "shy" word no letters touch a surrounding letter's nearest ends:

For example in a shy word like "AVOW" all ends point away from the other letters' ends, whereas in the non-shy word "SWEAR" the "E" and "A" touch at the bottom, as well as the "A" and "R"

Edit: To make it clearer, you can think of the ends as a letter's "hands". A has two hands on the bottom, L has two hands on the top and bottom, W has two hands on the top. T also has only two hands on the top, because those are the ends that can "reach out" to its surrounding letters.

So "shy" words are words that don't hold hands.

  • $\begingroup$ I like your lateral thinking. So according to this theory, letters like "BUT" and "EAT" are not shy and "DOUBT" is shy... please help here, its making me "CRAZY"(again not shy) $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 6, 2016 at 15:44
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, that's what I think ^^ $\endgroup$
    – QBrute
    Commented Sep 6, 2016 at 16:09

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