It’s been a while, but I’m still aiming to catalog all the two-letter words in the English language. That brings us to am, which is a simple and common word. I’m sure you can use it in a sentence. But can you define it? According to the Wiktionary, it’s the “first-person singular simple present indicative form of be.” (I’ll deal with be later.) It’s a state-of-being verb, famously deployed in statements such as “I am that I am” and “I think therefore I am.” But both of those are translations from other languages: אהיה אשר אהיה (Ehyeh asher ehyeh) and Je pense, donc je suis or Cogito ergo sum. I’m trying to think of a famous am in original English but I’m drawing a blank. “I am a jelly donut,” perhaps? No, that’s Ich bin ein Berliner. Oh well.
Four words can be formed by adding a letter in front of am:
- An ama is a female nurse (possibly a wet nurse) who looks after children, a variant of amah, borrowed from India or China. It could also be goat-hair fabric or an outrigger float.
- An ami is a friend. I thought this was a French word, but apparently some sources consider it to have entered the English language.
- Amp is short for ampere, a unit of electrical measurement.
- An amu is an atomic mass unit, which is one of those acronyms that has evolved into a word, like scuba or radar. It must be tricky to figure out exactly when that happens.
Twelve words can be formed by adding a letter at the end of am:
- As Emiril likes to say when he kicks it up a notch: “Bam!”
- A cam is a little lopsided thing that turns around in various types of machinery.
- A dam is a thing that beavers and humans build.
- Gam is a slangy term for a leg, but also a collective noun for a group of whales, and apparently also a nautical verb for making a social visit at sea.
- I think ham is too common to need definition.
- Ditto jam.
- For some reason we’re all familiar with the phrase “on the lam,” but no one can seem to explain what a lam is, exactly.
- What, nam is a word? It’s listed in Webster’s 1913 as an obsolete term meaning “am not.” I think we should bring this one back. “I nam a crook!”
- Apparently there’s a card game called pam. The jack of clubs is the highest trump in the game, so you can also call that jack a pam.
- A ram is a mature male sheep.
- A tam is a Scottish cap, short for Tam o’ Shanter
- A yam is similar to a sweet potato. Some people use the terms interchangeably, but they are actually two separate and distinct tubers.
By the by, the two photos featured above are of a single church in New Orleans. The pictures were taken a year apart by two different photographers, and I guess the building was renovated in the interim. Neither of the photographers appears to live in New Orleans, and I doubt they’ve seen each others’ photos. Credits below.