How Many Words Begin With X?

The letter ‘x’ is comparatively rare in English, especially when used to begin words. The dictionary on this website, which covers today’s English, contains about 120 words that start with ‘x’, from X itself (a noun which, among other things, is used to refer to an X-shape) toxystus (a long portico in which athletes used to exercise in ancient Greece). This total includes names of people, places, and events (such as Xenophon and Xingtai).

The much larger and historical Oxford English Dictionary, which includes rare words and obsolete terms that aren’t used in current English, but which doesn’t cover proper names, contains around 400 words that begin with ‘x’. Some of the more obscure ones are the wonderful xanthodontous, which means ‘having yellow teeth’ and xsturgy, a very rare word only recorded in 1592, meaning ‘the process of polishing’.

Many ‘x’ words in English derive from Greek sources, such as xenos (‘stranger’), which gave us xenophobia, and xulos, meaning ‘wood’, from which we have xylophone and xylography (‘the art of engraving on wood’). The ‘x’ section of the dictionary also includes a high proportion of scientific and technical terms, such as xanthic (meaning ‘yellowish’) and xiphoid (‘sword-shaped’).

How many words can you think of beginning with the letter ‘x’? 

A lot of people may instinctively respond with xylophone, as this is often used in alphabet books for children. 

But as we mentioned above, there are many more. Limiting ourselves to words of eight letters or fewer (and thus not including the nine-letter word xylophone), we have found forty words beginning with x that we listed below.

As you might expect, very few of these are in everyday use – with an exception being the informal abbreviation Xmas (for Christmas). Many of these x- words are scientific (such as the polysaccharide xanthan and the chemical compounds xanthate and xanthene) but others could have common applications – xeric meaning ‘very dry’, for example. Whether or not you’d be likely to use these words in casual conversation, they may well be useful for word games…

xanthana polysaccharide
xanthatea chemical compound
xanthenea chemical compound
Xanthianfrom Xanthus
xanthina yellow colouring matter
xanthinea biochemical compound
xanthomaa yellow patch on the skin
xebeca sailing ship
xemea fork-tailed gull
xeniagifts to a guest or guests
xenialrelating to hospitality
xenogamytype of flower fertilization
xenolithpiece of rock brought in from another area
xenologythe study of alien biology
xenona gaseous chemical element
xenotimea yellowish-brown mineral
xericvery dry
xeromaabnormal dryness of a body part
xeroxto photocopy
Xhosaa South African people or their language
xia Greek letter
Xianga dialect of Chinese
xoanona wooden image of a god
xographya photographic process
xua Vietnamese unit of money
xylana compound found in wood
xylaryof or relating to xylem
xylemplant tissue
xylenea liquid hydrocarbon
xylitea volatile liquid
xylitola chemical substance
xylol= xylene
xylosea plant sugar
xyrida sedge-like herb
xystera surgical instrument
xystonan ancient Greek spear
xystusan ancient Greek portico

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