Two hundred twenty is the answer I came up with. “Nox”, of course, is the Roman goddess of the night. But more than that, it’s a sound — and the simplest way to spell that sound in English.
These are the 220 variations of “nox” I came up with.
(Copyright © 2017 by Wil C. Fry. Some rights reserved.)
I thought of this when my daughter was reading a book and stumbled on the name of a character. I heard my wife correct her: “Mrs. Knox”. My brain heard “knocks”, but I quickly used context to switch it. I got to thinking that there are four ways to make the N sound to begin a word, and several ways to make the “aw” sound in the middle of that word, and quite a few ways to make the KS sound at the end of the word.
The image above is what I came up with: 220 variations of the exact same sound. N, KN, GN, and PN all four make the same sound to begin a word. Not, Knot, Gnome, Pneumonia. And we make the short-O sound in a variety of ways in English: O, AU (“faun”), AW (“fawn”), AUGH (“naughty”), OUGH (“bought”). And we can make the KS sound with an X, KS, KX, CS, CKS, CKX, QS (“tranqs”), QUES (“antiques”), QX, or even CQS. Some of those aren’t found in English usage, but we know that’s what sound they’d made.
In all, I had four ways to make the beginning sound, five ways to make the middle sound, and eleven ways to make the ending sound. So I knew right away I’d have 220 spelling variations.
(And I didn’t think until later to use A as in “ball” or “walk”, which would give us 264 total variations.)
In other words, English is phuqd. It is beyond absurd that this is how we constructed a language, and that we’re content with it. Consider that the real words above — Nox, Knox, Knocks, and Nocks — each mean entirely different things.
MRS. KNOX THINKS OF NOX AS SHE KNOCKS AND NOCKS.
Imagine if some of the other variations were also words. Some are silly of course (“gnauqhques”), but others seem reasonable enough, given our language. Noqs, gnox, pnocs… (Edit: Oops. Its seems gnox IS a word, at least in slang.)
I imagined aliens finding the 220 words above carved into a titanium plate and trying to translate the language. Then a human they’ve enslaved walks up and laughs. “They’re all pronounced the same”, he would tell them. And they would eat him for supper for his impertinence.