Most unusual letters in English language

12 May 2009   11 comments   Python

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I needed to find out what are the least used letters in the English language. I pulled down a list of about 100,000+ English words, split them all and made a list of about 1,000,000 letters. Sorted them by usage and came up with this as the result:


It would be interesting to make a heatmap of this over an image of a QWERTY keyboard.

Below is a the same list but with ratios compared to the least common:

e 3.0
s 2.3
i 2.1
a 2.0
r 1.9
n 1.8
t 1.6
o 1.5
l 1.4
d 1.1
c 0.9
u 0.9
g 0.8
p 0.7
m 0.7
h 0.6
b 0.5
y 0.4
f 0.4
k 0.3
w 0.3
v 0.3
z 0.1
x 0.1
j 0.1
q 0.0

I hope I got that right because I did that calculation in a quick one-liner just now. It basically means that the letter e is 3 times more common than the average.


> It would be interesting to make a heatmap of this over an image of a QWERTY keyboard.

If you don't clean your hands religiously, you most likely already have a "grimemap" on your keyboard which more or less equates to a usage heatmap.
I did the same thing for Spanish *manually* 9 years ago and also found e to be the most common vowel and letter, and the letter s to be the most common consonant and almost more common than the vowel "u" (but still in Spanish the vowels outnumber all the consonants)

How I wish I knew python back then!
Michael Tobis
This is odd, especially the poor performance of 'H'. It was long believed that the order of frequency is


which even has an entry on Wikipedia.
Where did you get your list of words? Also is it useful to account for the frequency of the words themselves when calculating this list? E.g. if "the" is the most popularly used word in english, it would significantly skew the upwards the usage of the letters "t" and "h"
Peter Bengtsson
You're actually right. I just took a huge list of words without caring for which was the most common *words*. My bad.
Perhaps a better data source would be texts from project Gutenberg or Wikipedia?
Michal Bartoszkiewicz
You should include the frequency of each word in the calculation – you probably treat the 't' in 'the' identically as the 't' in 'anthropomorphologically', but the former occurs slightly more often in (normal) English texts than the latter ;)
According to Wikipedia ( 't' is the second most popular letter with about 2.3 times the average.
Peter Bengtsson
yeah, you're right. I was lazy.
By "3 times more common" do you mean "4 times as common"? The numbers make it look that way, but an unfortunate recent tendency is to use "3 times more" when "3 times as much" is more appropriate.
Peter Bengtsson
Says the Jpg is broken every time I try to open it.

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