Clinical Data – Single Letter Indicators

Newly available in the Clinical Data section is a list of single letter indicators, including old favourites such as ‘duck and ‘kiss’, along with the entire ANSI spelling alphabet (‘alpha’, ‘bravo’ et al) and the letters of the alphabet whose names are themselves words (‘bee’, ‘see’ etc). Taken together with the single letter abbreviations in the All Abbreviations list and the selectors in the Letter Selection Indicators list these represent the vast majority of ways to indicate a single letter in a wordplay (though not quite all – subtractions are a possibility, eg ‘sit without it’ for S, as well as slightly unusual stuff like ‘letter twice found in bottle’ for T).

The page can be accessed from the Clinical Data main page, or directly here.

I would welcome feedback on the contents of the list, and therefore have left both this post and the new page open for comments.

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7 Responses

  1. Crossguesser says:

    ‘Principally’ as a first letter indicator regularly appears in the Times, but not in the Sunday Times.

    ST crossword editor Peter Biddlecombe wrote this comment when judging a clue in the ST clue writing competition for ‘Front page’: CLUE: Sort of news publishers principally go after?
    “Another anagram-based all-in-one, using (N, P, go after), and certainly news publishers are most interested in big stories. But I can’t see that “principally” is right as a first letter indicator, so overused as it may be, “primarily” seems a fairer choice. Whether “principal” means “leader” or “leading”, these are both only metaphorically “at the head”, I think.”

    Interesting how two crossword editors in the same stable can have different rules.

    • Doctor Clue says:

      I suspect this is not the only ‘borderline’ area on which their views differ. My experience is that when making the transition from solver to setter you take many things ‘as read’ simply because you’ve become used to seeing them in other people’s puzzles; as your setting career progresses, you start to question some of them, and editors reject others – but probably only the ones in relation to which they have themselves gone through the same process!

      For ‘principally’, ‘primarily’ or any other adverb (though not necessarily an adverbial expression) to indicate the first letter of another word (which in terms of the wordplay must function as a noun, regardless of its grammatical role in the surface reading) requires an additional word or words to be inferred. With adverbial anagram indicators, this is not a big leap – something like ‘arranged’ or ‘treated’ usually works, eg ‘items [arranged] randomly’ or ‘items [treated] badly’ for EMITS, but it’s hard to see exactly what needs to be inferred in order to get the letter I from ‘items principally’ or ‘items primarily’ – something like ‘Items [selected] principally/primarily’ doesn’t suggest the first part of ‘Items’.

      • Dr. Daniel Price says:

        The proposal would limit the available single- and first-letter indicators to a minuscule set. I am more concerned with fairness than with a grammatical exactness that constrains the setter’s options to a point where cryptics become standard crosswords, wherein the same definitions and “crosswordese” entries eliminate cerebral challenge. I do see “primarily” (and principally, for that matter) as a clear first-letter indicator. I view my task, in setting grids, as a torturer of language to its limit. Such a role–particularly when editors and publishers wish to see creativity in the writing of clues–necessitates stretching of definitions and indicators. In short, are “primarily” and “principally”, while imperfect, not defensible?

        • Doctor Clue says:

          I agree with all that you say, and I likewise consider that ‘principally’ and ‘primarily’ are perfectly fair as initial letter selection indicators – my issue was that by suggesting that ‘primarily’ was ok while ‘principally’ was not, Peter B was drawing on nuances of meaning which seem to me far too subtle in the context of “crosswordese”, where liberties are routinely taken with the ‘English language’ at a far more fundamental level (as you observe, were this not so the setter/solver battle would be a pretty dull one). I believe that accuracy in clue construction is very important, but that setters should have considerable latitude where the individual elements are concerned, whether in wordplay or definition.

          That said, I do have particular bugbears, eg I don’t like ‘during’ as an insertion indicator or ‘extremely’ to indicate the first and last letters of a word. I won’t use them myself, and I might not like seeing them in a puzzle, but I’d still understand what they were telling me to do, so I wouldn’t consider them unfair.

  2. Dr. Daniel Price says:

    Errata, albeit not from the “Single Letter Indicators” page:

    “jamming”, in “Container and Contents Indicators”, is currently rendered as “jammimg.”

    I believe that the first-letter selection indicator listed as “principle of” is meant to be “principal of”. If the usage of “principle” as “origin” or “source” is intended, then perhaps both “principle” and “principal” should be acceptable as indicators.

    • Doctor Clue says:

      Thanks for that. I have fixed the typo, and also added ‘jamming’ etc as an insertion indicator (‘crowds jammed the passage’) – I’m not sure why it had been omitted.

      ‘Principle’ is a relatively new addition that I saw in an Azed puzzle a few months back – I was initially dubious, but the sort of dictionary definitions that you mention (as well as ‘beginning’) make it to my mind at least as valid as ‘source’ or ‘origin’. ‘Principal’ I’m less happy about – it’s fine as an adjective, so ‘principal character in Hamlet’ for H would be hard to argue with, but I can’t find a current definition of the noun that suggests the first part of something. OED gives (B.II.4) ‘The head, top’, but this is shown as both obsolete and rare, and the only example dates from 1533. The Azed archive does have one instance of ‘principal’ being used as a noun rather than an adjective with ‘character’ or ‘piece’, but that was in a clue from 1978. I’ve added ‘principal character’ to the list of first letter selection indicators; also I’m putting together a new table containing questionable indicators that are likely to be found in puzzles, and I will add the noun ‘principal’ to it.

      • Dr. Daniel Price says:

        I shall concede the point; while OED lists “leader” as a synonym of “principal”, that word is far down the list. Having conceded the point, I have used “principal” to indicate the first letter without qualms.