A word is said to be autological if it describes itself. This can be a property of both nouns and adjectives; for example, "noun" is a noun and "pentasyllabic" is pentasyllabic.

We can also construct what one might term "autological loops"- closed sequences of words that describe each other. As an example, a loanword is a word borrowed verbatim from a foreign language, such as "kindergarten", and a calque is a borrowed term that has been translated, such as "beer garden" (from "Biergarten"). Interestingly, "loanword" is a calque (from the German "Lehnwort") and "calque" is a loanword (from the French "calque"). Thus, "calque" and "loanword" form an autological loop.

(While loops of adjectives are possible, often these become subjective and depend on shades of meaning. For example, "long", "terse", and "diminutive"- "long" is terse, "terse" is diminutive, and "diminutive" is long. But what does it mean for a word to be long? Does 10 letters really qualify? Can a word truly be said to be terse, or can that only be said of a sentence? Because of these issues, we'll be ignoring adjectival loops.)

Now, my question is this: are there autological noun loops longer than 2, and if so, what is the longest one that can be formed?

  • $\begingroup$ Does synonym count as autological? $\endgroup$ – athin Jan 31 '18 at 16:57
  • $\begingroup$ Has a correct answer been given? If so, please don't forget to $\color{green}{\checkmark \small\text{Accept}}$ it. If not, some responses to the answerers to help steer them in the right direction would be helpful. $\endgroup$ – Rubio Mar 3 '18 at 8:10
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    $\begingroup$ I’m voting to close this question because open-ended puzzles are off-topic as of May 2019 $\endgroup$ – bobble May 15 at 17:34

I think we can

make rather a long "loop" in a rather cheaty way, by finding lots of nouns that are all (at least roughly) generalizations of "noun". So, e.g., consider these: "lexeme", "word", "noun", "term". "Lexeme" is a word; "word" is a noun; "noun" is a term; "term" is a lexeme. We can add more by including more nouns with very broad meanings; "thing", "entity", etc.

Of course it's possible that

there are loops longer than one can achieve in this way. For instance, we can insert "monosyllable" or "lexeme" immediately after "word", "noun", or "term". But I expect that making as long a loop as possible will use this technique to achieve at least part of its length.

Anyway, here's a straw example using these ideas:

"String" is a word. "Word" is a monosyllable. "Monosyllable" is a noun. "Noun" is a lexon. "Lexon" is a term. "Term" is a tetragram. "Tetragram" is a vocable. "Vocable" is a lexeme. "Lexeme" is a string.

This has length


It's not clear that it's quite in the spirit of the question, though. Incidentally,

James Webster made roughly the same point in a now-deleted comment, though the fact that he deleted it and the way it's worded makes me think that maybe his point wasn't quite the same as mine.

  • $\begingroup$ Indeed, I'd confused the part where the term describes the actual word, but didn't think about synonyms for "word". I realised my mistake, as I do all too often, as soon as I'd said it $\endgroup$ – James Webster Jan 31 '18 at 17:58
  • $\begingroup$ Hm, that's a good point. I can't think of any way to disallow answers like this that wouldn't be unreasonably pedantic, so I think it stands- after all, isn't being technically correct the best kind of correct? $\endgroup$ – Patrick N Jan 31 '18 at 18:05
  • English is Up First (the word English is first in the list)
  • Up First is a Podcast
  • Podcast is a portmanteau
  • Portmanteau is French
  • French is English

Your mention of loanwords gave me the idea of starting with a language. I did keep accidentally using adjectives and falling prey to picking synonyms rather than neighbour-autological words! Harder than it appears at first glance! But I’m sure I could get this longer.

Most of the words on the right are used as adjectives, but always as nouns on the left, I’m not sure if this is allowed.

  • $\begingroup$ Actually portmanteau written like this isn't a french word, it comes from "portEmanteau" I guess, which has a totally different meaning. Without the E, the word doesn't exist in the dictionnary I think $\endgroup$ – Albino Feb 1 '18 at 10:55

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