There’s an idea that just as English is composed of words, thought is composed of essential parts too. Perhaps there is a direct relationship between the most essential words and the most essential thoughts. How could we find out what are the atoms of thought, and what are just the molecules though?
Here’s one (quite unscientific) method. Take a dictionary, throw away all the words that don’t feature in any definitions since they can be described by other words, but aren’t needed to describe any word. Now, rewrite the definitions so that each word is replaced with its definition. Again, throw away any word that doesn’t feature in the new definitions. Continue boiling until you aren’t getting rid of words anymore.
I took Websters dictionary from the project Gutenberg site. I started with 95712 words. After the initial throwing away of words that weren’t in any definitions, I was down to 4489 words. After expanding them, and throwing away words that weren’t in the expanded definitions, I was down to 3601 words. Setting recursive definitions as atoms and continuing got me down to 2565 words, which should be enough to describe every thought you might have…
It turns out that a, b, c, d, e, f, g, h, i, j, k, l, n, o, q, s, t, u, v, w, y, z are the essential letters, leaving m, p, r and x as compound concepts.
I’m not sure how to reduce the number of words further, so here they are:
much, muck, vane, vamp, murk, mule, mull, vain, helve, mump, gland, tilth, musk, must, muss, mute, vase, soothe, souled, vast, glass, glare, scrimp, wrench, cove, cowl, pronged, hence, scurf, lance, scull, smouch, ketch, fy, glaze, ha, go, do, by, twinge, be, frock, itch, boast, cram, lynch, at, as, crab, an, tinge, no, of, realm, on, or, tined, board, pi, crew, me, my, ky, la, is, it, crib, in, slack, frond, front, up, to, frost, crow, crop, froth, so, reach, course, crup, frown, george, sleaved, gleet, club, clot, clog, lipped, inch, screw, scrim, scrip, fetch, screen, screed, billed, wythe, swathe, scrub, frill, clip, kibed, clew, clay, clan, clam, clap, claw, cock, code, large, coal, coat, pledge, quid, quit, quiz, frith, yacht, cope, cool, cook, coop, coot, cone, come, comb, waltz, cost, scribe, cork, corn, core, cord, scrap, colt, cold, coke, coin, tinned, coil, coif, taint, waffle, marked, glint, vive, reign, chit, chum, yeast, chop, corps, view, vice, yield, glide, terse, vine, gliff, char, chap, chat, scythe, fruit, nail, name, couch, spight, slish, waive, drain, waist, draft, slime, sling, slink, hoard, skilled, fierce, slide, plump, rinse, plumb, slice, pluck, drake, drape, right, scroll, slake, vest, slang, slant, vert, keeve, vent, vend, slate, slave, veil, vein, veer, taste, slight, cough, court, count, kedge, juice, warmth, wreath, hitch, glove, gloss, sleek, sleep, gloom, wright, sleid, cell, reeve, ceil, shelve, weight, globe, cent, cede, scaled, tared, slope, sloop, meet, dawk, daze, meek, crouch, brown, broth, rock, robe, scent, mend, scene, roan, roam, roar, melt, brose, mess, mesh, mere, broom, brook, brood, mete, clinch, strength, ridge, wraith, douche, crotch, fault, loose, draught, meat, mean, meal, seethe, vole, void, tierce, bilge, iced, vote, paint, ghost, deed, deep, cracked, deck, dear, deal, dean, dead, deaf, priest, haunch, desk, dent, nappe, made, farce, make, mail, main, scant, midst, beast, mace, scale, scald, scalp, beard, mawk, math, mate, scarp, scarf, scare, scaup, manx, male, malt, mall, mask, beach, mash, mass, mast, tenth, marl, mark, mart, mars, tense, rive, knife, ring, rind, ripe, risk, rise, brunt, rift, squab, oared, conch, brush, ride, brute, rich, squib, squid, nerved, phono, shive, dace, copse, bight, dauk, date, dash, dart, dark, snatch, shift, shine, damp, dame, shirk, shire, shirt, daft, basque, scrape, knell, scrawl, shawl, shave, tease, laugh, sprain, birth, teach, scowl, coarse, scorn, score, scots, scour, birch, scout, scope, scoop, read, coach, rear, reap, rhyme, reed, reef, reek, reel, scold, latch, rein, false, kneed, rent, rest, knead, coast, lurch, bitts, stretch, mood, wretch, mole, sheer, sheet, moll, mohr, move, mown, shears, moss, most, mote, moth, more, scream, sheal, moon, moot, sheaf, shear, prince, praise, shell, shelf, mode, mock, moan, moat, fresh, louse, sherd, rave, watch, rant, rank, hoarse, rapt, rape, faith, rare, rate, rash, spread, rasp, faint, mite, teens, steeve, mill, milk, mild, milt, teeth, mink, mine, mind, minx, mire, miss, mist, search, rhumb, bouffe, curl, curb, cure, calced, curt, cusp, cusk, rage, raft, rake, raid, knight, rail, rain, waste, mince, preach, cube, rack, race, nerve, waved, hunk, hunt, lunge, hulk, hull, slush, huff, huge, beached, hued, looped, husk, hurt, hurl, shade, frank, shaft, trench, frame, shake, shall, frail, shame, launch, launce, shank, shape, share, sharp, shark, brave, brawl, braze, brass, weave, frieze, nautch, throat, press, pshaw, bathe, batch, wait, wail, stanch, wage, boat, wale, walk, wall, barge, wake, preen, throng, throne, wade, bridge, grunt, braid, brain, brail, born, bore, boss, bote, bout, brace, bowl, boil, ward, ware, want, brant, brand, based, bolt, bold, boll, hooked, bomb, wave, hatch, friend, warn, warm, wart, warp, bond, bone, wash, brake, boot, book, boom, boon, bright, nosed, night, norse, haunt, weed, wedge, weep, weak, weal, wear, just, jump, smack, north, junk, sail, sage, safe, notch, sack, small, click, blur, blue, smart, witch, cloak, ninth, blot, quench, blow, hawse, flange, breed, sylph, close, bream, break, bread, prill, prime, clock, print, pride, price, prick, breve, tryst, clout, clove, clown, cloth, cloud, bite, bird, bing, bile, bill, bilk, bind, bitt, winged, drunk, hound, house, hours, suite, berth, flanged, nude, numb, breathe, bide, joke, join, barbed, splint, odds, guards, dredge, death, perch, shrike, shrill, shrimp, ruck, fringe, winch, wince, cheese, shriek, shuck, scheme, shunt, bribe, brick, rust, bride, rush, brief, brine, bring, brink, wine, wind, rude, wing, wink, shrine, shrink, sphere, ruff, wipe, wise, wisp, wire, rule, with, twill, twine, welsh, smile, twist, dunce, halve, best, bend, bell, belt, bent, twice, beef, pitch, bear, beat, thrist, bead, beak, beam, thrive, thrill, stepped, thrips, bench, smith, smite, whelked, dulse, sulks, roll, knock, roil, root, height, rope, roof, room, prawn, rote, ross, rose, broad, rout, prank, knosp, thrall, shield, knout, pounce, well, welt, wend, bruise, webbed, west, sphinx, clump, barn, bark, bare, bard, wide, surge, bath, bate, bass, base, ditch, bane, band, bank, bang, balm, wild, shoot, will, shook, jibe, shore, short, shote, smear, shove, wife, shout, back, tweak, bait, bail, bake, ball, balk, bale, bald, stored, priced, jilt, thread, what, whig, whim, whip, whir, toast, weird, when, shroud, whet, whey, harsh, weigh, shoal, smell, smelt, shock, twang, cage, zone, spar, writ, span, flute, flush, brusque, cheve, chest, fluke, wield, cave, drink, cheat, sour, soul, sort, sore, pinch, soph, soot, carl, carp, care, card, cart, cast, cash, case, cask, breach, drill, soon, cane, jest, camp, drive, sole, sold, cant, some, juggs, jerk, cake, cheep, cheer, cheek, soil, calm, call, calk, calf, check, soft, soak, soap, quitch, fleet, fleer, nine, taunt, snug, stuff, girth, snow, stunt, stump, hutch, flesh, stupe, voice, spoil, singe, spout, spoon, since, sinch, spoor, spool, sport, spore, strew, nice, nide, nick, nigh, strap, straw, stray, piled, strop, badge, strip, hurst, jeer, breath, breast, strum, strut, dried, glance, drift, spot, trine, spur, trill, school, spit, spin, trite, trice, trick, tride, tribe, breech, tried, schist, dress, clothe, chirk, spunk, chine, chink, troupe, child, chill, spurn, spurt, skid, quince, skip, skin, skim, chief, dream, trough, need, smoke, near, neat, neap, neck, style, smock, pique, spurred, wood, woof, flake, next, flail, newt, news, size, spleen, womb, nest, wolf, flash, flask, flare, judge, work, worm, flank, word, flame, float, smut, smug, flock, splent, snap, snag, hunch, flood, smee, smew, slow, slur, slug, dread, breeze, jack, jade, trend, floor, shrewd, sprig, slam, sled, width, flour, slim, flown, sprag, spray, slip, slit, cordate, tread, treat, slot, staves, truck, horse, writhe, branch, trump, trunk, sight, trust, truss, world, spice, noise, fleece, tooth, worth, worse, clang, clank, piece, chilled, clamp, pearl, peart, claim, probe, sphex, clare, clasp, class, sick, drove, side, pouched, sift, sign, deuce, prong, proof, butt, buzz, krems, clack, prose, proud, buoy, siss, prove, sire, bunk, bung, bump, site, bull, bulk, bulb, prowl, bush, burr, burn, buff, silk, silt, sink, toned, sine, sing, tongs, sham, zinc, shad, speck, speed, shed, childe, spell, spend, logged, shun, shut, legged, shin, ship, shop, show, shot, shoe, touch, tough, through, dense, note, nose, none, noon, scar, nonce, chase, charm, chart, chalk, chant, starch, scad, scab, whorled, furze, chair, chain, chafe, twitch, sand, salt, sake, chinch, flick, flirt, buck, trout, save, flint, fling, sash, split, droop, splay, grieve, keyed, clerk, smooth, noose, clear, cleat, clean, depth, seal, seam, cleft, sear, seat, gnash, seck, daunt, seed, seel, seek, troth, thrust, thrush, self, troll, send, brow, scow, flounce, spite, scum, starve, brun, ounce, nones, scye, spire, spike, spile, spill, spine, brag, prune, inched, vogue, bret, brew, brim, whiff, which, whirl, space, spade, whine, while, spalt, spasm, spare, spark, dance, zest, surd, sure, sunn, broach, suit, dough, salve, stern, such, doubt, suck, gneiss, crime, twelve, whisk, white, steak, steal, crisp, stub, bulge, stud, steam, sense, stop, stow, steep, steel, stir, there, stay, star, stab, stag, stew, stet, stem, step, poach, springe, thewed, douse, their, gift, ooze, gill, gild, knob, know, knot, knee, give, knit, bunch, spear, speak, gist, gird, girt, glib, glow, build, built, croak, crock, spright, glum, glue, sluice, glut, stark, start, stave, state, stake, stain, stall, stalk, stale, stamp, stand, flight, stack, stage, staff, serve, glad, blight, ache, eyed, goat, goal, goaf, goad, eyre, swim, swig, swop, croup, gnat, cross, crore, joule, crown, crowd, swab, sway, swan, joist, sized, speech, joint, thirst, stock, myrrh, glimpse, light, sauce, sault, else, crude, whole, crumb, grease, whoop, whore, crump, crust, crush, gaze, clause, gape, gang, gaul, gate, gash, gasp, crowned, garb, stork, store, gaff, storm, gage, stool, stoop, gain, gauze, stone, gall, gale, game, stove, stout, stoup, sarse, grace, grade, coursed, gauge, march, once, stink, sting, stint, still, stilt, stiff, stick, seize, marsh, polled, tail, tang, tamp, tame, tall, talk, take, tart, tare, garth, tape, task, south, sound, match, burst, geld, liege, burke, germ, sheathe, gear, tack, porte, wheeled, foxed, wicked, eight, dodge, fuse, moist, plague, stringed, funk, fund, twaite, full, thou, feud, they, fell, thin, this, fend, felt, quail, quake, fear, that, than, feed, feel, quart, choose, sconce, quash, tend, gripe, cowled, tent, tell, teil, grist, teem, pawl, pawn, grill, teat, tear, pave, quack, team, path, past, pass, parch, paste, vault, sponge, porch, lapsed, scratch, park, pare, faints, part, text, pale, palm, pall, pang, test, apse, page, pair, pain, paid, pack, rogue, term, scorch, fyke, thrack, young, crined, leaved, arched, arch, fish, graze, fist, firm, fire, grave, formed, fitz, five, roast, fizz, queue, graft, fife, fief, yoke, grail, grain, vexed, file, grasp, grass, tailed, querl, peaked, grate, quest, quell, grant, grand, finn, fine, find, fill, time, auld, queer, queen, tilt, till, tile, greed, crunch, tift, great, scotch, greek, green, veined, paned, kail, thus, tier, tide, tick, chord, chops, choke, peak, pear, forked, chock, flex, flea, solve, peck, flay, flaw, flax, flat, flap, flag, peel, peen, peer, perk, pelt, pest, toll, tomb, tone, groom, scouse, tool, tope, sparse, toed, groan, wharf, flow, sparge, whaup, flux, grout, tote, toss, flip, tour, tout, budge, town, gross, group, sexed, chyme, mouthed, clutch, ribbed, bit, foil, bin, big, bob, kern, bog, leech, forge, box, bow, boy, ban, bag, bad, baa, bay, bat, bar, foam, mesne, force, beg, bee, bed, bey, quick, bid, cat, can, cap, quilt, quill, wormed, bug, bud, but, buy, tongue, bye, quite, aim, air, blithe, aid, and, poise, all, quaint, abb, month, age, add, adz, progue, ace, act, choice, keen, keel, keep, fowl, four, foul, forth, are, arc, arm, ark, fork, form, art, ash, ask, ape, fore, apt, point, foot, fool, awe, font, food, awk, awl, ass, fond, fold, auk, whelm, patch, where, lithe, year, yean, mound, mount, horned, mouth, mouse, yelp, yell, quoth, quote, fret, free, fred, chuck, fray, frog, from, found, face, wheel, fade, fact, prompt, scrolled, tube, tuck, sober, crease, fail, fair, tuft, fake, saint, fall, churn, fame, tune, tump, groined, fawn, lived, fate, kiss, fast, fare, farm, kite, tree, trap, trot, troy, leave, least, forced, learn, leash, lease, trip, trim, true, leach, clumps, pounced, kink, king, kind, kill, kiln, jet, sleeve, guise, drop, jar, jam, jag, jaw, twin, twig, purge, job, joy, thought, jog, jig, pray, jib, drum, drug, wrest, prim, prig, ire, draw, haired, prod, drag, prop, dram, drab, purse, kid, kin, kit, black, pussy, key, sprout, league, guide, fight, turn, turf, jug, cranked, tush, tusk, tight, guild, boiled, length, goose, haw, rowed, hay, hew, her, hen, hem, hip, type, his, hit, sledge, doze, god, swipe, down, dorr, swish, gum, backed, switch, fifth, guy, gut, swing, swine, lorn, lord, lore, wreak, lope, doit, loop, loom, loon, look, wreck, lone, long, dock, ice, growth, roust, rouse, paunch, done, frogged, vague, puff, lout, love, inn, ink, loud, lost, loss, dome, ill, dole, lose, how, loan, pure, loam, loaf, hog, purl, hot, load, hop, hoe, field, hug, pull, pulp, round, hub, pump, yaws, yawn, loft, hum, should, rouge, rough, yarn, yard, push, lock, chance, few, fee, fib, guess, guest, change, fay, fat, luck, far, fan, fag, luce, eye, punch, eve, lodge, elf, elm, elk, ell, end, egg, eke, bleak, gin, gib, gig, swamp, get, swage, gem, dung, swath, gag, gas, gar, gap, dupe, squeeze, dusk, dust, sward, smeared, swart, swarm, bleed, lure, duff, fur, faced, duke, lute, dump, fra, dumb, lust, dull, fro, fry, fox, for, fog, foe, lump, duck, fly, fig, fin, fir, fit, fix, horn, hour, hood, hook, dab, hoop, dag, dam, day, hope, blaze, cup, cue, hold, home, hole, hone, cut, leafed, sweal, swear, blade, sweat, cod, cog, con, cot, sweep, sweet, cry, blank, bland, swell, blast, cit, blare, ebb, sterned, ear, eat, wrist, write, squint, eel, wring, squill, edh, dur, squirt, squire, dot, hock, spring, dog, hoar, dun, dup, due, dub, dry, dib, dew, den, dim, din, dip, die, dig, heel, guard, heck, pith, red, rep, dike, verge, heir, raw, ray, heft, dill, rap, rat, dine, ram, help, dint, rot, row, rob, hemp, rod, hell, helm, dirk, dire, dish, disk, disc, dirt, herd, rip, rig, rim, rib, rye, run, rum, rut, pick, rub, charge, sad, sag, pink, pine, ping, say, saw, pile, heat, heap, hear, heal, head, pipe, lynx, six, shy, sit, sip, sin, sew, set, sea, see, sou, sow, church, sol, son, sod, raised, fleeced, sky, limbed, sly, wrong, wroth, sty, sue, sum, sup, sun, blink, blind, tag, tax, taw, tau, tar, tap, tan, dice, snuff, pulse, par, pat, paw, pay, pad, pap, pan, chaste, loath, magged, mease, pew, plea, pen, per, pet, peg, ply, play, pie, pig, plan, pin, pip, pit, poy, pox, pop, pot, pry, curve, aisle, put, pun, pug, pyx, groove, harp, plot, hard, hall, hale, half, verse, hake, hang, hand, hawk, plum, plug, haze, hate, hash, hasp, have, haul, hive, eighth, net, sleave, new, nap, hind, hill, square, hire, grange, hint, gourd, nul, nun, high, nod, spruce, not, nor, now, gouge, chouse, nib, nip, chough, ohm, thyme, oil, poll, pole, strained, poke, odd, pound, grouse, pond, off, oak, own, mulch, owe, our, out, pouch, ground, ore, corked, orb, old, stitch, one, lag, lap, lar, law, lax, lay, lop, loo, log, lot, blotch, low, lug, pour, pout, port, prayer, pose, lex, post, let, leg, lee, nurse, pons, pool, lip, bowse, lin, poor, poop, lid, lie, mad, map, man, may, mat, mew, mob, mop, mow, mud, hewn, gorge, mix, mid, keeled, thump, thumb, stream, snood, snort, streak, skirt, bound, thatch, skill, skiff, jawed, edge, pierce, each, blown, blote, ease, east, bloom, earl, earn, fives, curled, blood, block, plate, trawl, yea, yen, yew, yet, trash, feast, tramp, plant, strain, plank, strait, plane, trail, train, trait, plash, strand, place, shirred, trade, plait, strath, plaid, plain, trace, track, tract, gyte, though, leet, leer, feign, hinge, lead, leaf, lean, leak, leap, blunt, strike, stride, strict, feint, blush, wry, thrid, wet, web, who, throw, wis, win, why, smudge, bluff, thrum, wan, wax, way, war, was, wag, wad, haft, hair, hail, hack, three, vow, vat, sniff, use, urn, snide, laze, stress, straight, brooch, lard, last, phrase, lash, tun, late, tub, tug, lave, two, try, lake, toe, land, lane, lank, toy, tow, ton, too, top, lamb, lame, lamp, tie, tin, tip, tic, tid, boots, ten, lade, tea, lace, lack, spired, the, bronze, gree, dyke, gray, boned, health, grit, grip, lick, lieu, life, lief, blanch, like, link, line, limp, lime, plight, lift, eared, wooled, cause, grub, swoop, gros, grow, sword, urge, sneer, crack, sneak, crane, crank, gold, thorn, crape, good, crass, gong, freight, crate, craft, gorm, gore, crake, gown, cramp, raise, left, lend, lere, craze, fanged, earth, less, stripe, chinned, string, lewd, strive, necked, range, plead, thick, snare, snarl, think, sleeved, heath, heart, third, heave, snail, snake, creak, cream, stroke, creep, carte, carve, strong, hearse, crest, creux, bogue, slough, plunge, first, gust, gush, browed, lint, gulf, live, list, lisp, catch, fence, hedge