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Tag: letters

Improve your nation’s Scrabble championship performance and learn new and exotic words with this one amazing license plate proposal! Call the DMV now and reserve a new plate!


English has a wide variety of rarely-used short words that are extremely useful in various word games (e.g. Scrabble, Words With Friends, Bananagrams), and not in very many other situations.

Specifically, there are (in the 1993 FreeBSD dictionary that comes with Mac OS X), a total of:

  • 139 two-letter words
    1294 three-letter words
    4994 four-letter words

…out of the 234,936 words in the 1934 Webster’s Second International dictionary, according to the following commands:

grep -E -i '^[A-Z]{2}$' /usr/share/dict/words | tr 'a-z' 'A-Z' | sort -u | wc -l  --> Result: 139 two-letter words

grep -E -i '^[A-Z]{3}$' /usr/share/dict/words | tr 'a-z' 'A-Z' | sort -u | wc -l  --> Result: 1294 three-letter words

grep -E -i '^[A-Z]{4}$' /usr/share/dict/words | tr 'a-z' 'A-Z' | sort -u | wc -l  --> Result: 4994 four-letter words

The issue:

This is a fairly large set of words that a person would need to know at minimum in order to be a pro at a word game.

In order to make our nation more competitive at international word game tournaments, something will need to be done.


Car license plates should incorporate the following: a short word (from the set of valid words above), plus the definition of that word (Figure 1).

Then, as people are stuck in traffic every day (or are waiting for a bus), they can learn new words just by observing the nearby cars!

As a bonus, this may make drivers more attentive of the in front of them.


Fig. 1: These proposed license plate numbers contain an uncommon English word and its definition. Top: “AIT.” Bottom: “EME.”

“Grassroots” Alternative Proposal:

If you don’t want to wait for your state to implement this new license plate design, you can still implement this idea right now by just making your own bumper sticker with a word & definition on it. Put the sticker on the back of your car, and you’re done!

PROS: Increases literacy and national performance in esoteric word games.

CONS: May encourage extreme tailgating (in order to read the tiny text on the license plates), which could lead to more traffic accidents. This could be solved by making the license plates huge, or using a set of bumper stickers instead.

Re-experience the process of learning to read AND prevent spies from stealing your secrets!


Once you know how to read, it’s impossible to see text the same way as you did before—you will inescapably recognize the symbols as letters the instant that you see them.

The issue:

This “automatic” parsing of written language makes it easy to forget how much effort was required to initially learn how to read. This inhibits people’s ability to empathize with children and second-language learners as they acquire literacy.


In order to let you remember what it was like to not be able to read, this hypothetical browser plug-in will simply change all web fonts to an illiteracy-simulating “dingbats” font (Figure 1).


Fig. 1: With the “Wingdings” font replacing the standard web page font, every Internet site becomes totally incomprehensible, letting you re-experience the lack of ability to read. In order to obtain proficiency with this new alphabet, a user would need to learn 26 lower-case letters, 26 upper-case letters, ~10 punctuation marks, and 10 digits, for a grand total of ~70–80 symbols.

Note that the new “letters” actually do directly correspond to the letters of the English alphabet, so you could hypothetically re-experience the alphabet-learning experience by using this plugin.


Fig. 2: Here is what a block of English text might look like to someone who is totally unfamiliar with Latin letters.


Fig. 3: The importance of heraldry and easily-understood symbols is more evident when you cannot read!


Fig. 4: This approximates what a medieval peasant would have experienced reading a manuscript about the Hundred Year’s War. Note how much more important the images seem when you can’t read the text.

Secret bonus feature:

If you set your browser to a “dingbats” font and actually learn how to read it, then you’ll be able to thwart spies who try to read your screen over your shoulder. The CIA should mandate that all of its laptops be set to this custom font mode.


If you want to remember what it was like before you could read, you should set your browser font to Wingdings or another “dingbats” font.

PROS: Increases ability to empathize with people learning to read. Makes it difficult for spies to read your secrets.

CONS: Your browser might get stuck in this mode, and then you’d have to learn a totally new (yet almost completely useless) alphabet.

P.S. You can also experience this phenomenon by just going to a Wikipedia page in a language you can’t read. Try one of these: https://or.wikipedia.org/, https://am.wikipedia.org/ , or https://si.wikipedia.org/ (unless you somehow read all three, which is exceptionally unlikely).

Erase all of written history to hide our shameful alphabet-based mistakes from the future! After reading this, you will think Fahrenheit 451 is an instruction manual.

The issue:

Latin-based writing systems—like the one your’e reading right now—have a serious problem: many letters and numbers look exactly the same!

The most obvious example (Figure 1) is probably “l” (lower-case “L”) and “I” (upper-case “i”).


Fixing these duplicated symbols, perhaps with the proposed new symbols in Figure 3, has a number of benefits:

  • For everyone: Prevents confusion when you wrote down someone’s email address and now can’t figure out if you wrote down a “9” or a “g.”
  • For everyone: Prevents people from trying to scam you with a fake email address from “admin@C0MPANY.COM.”
  • For people who witness vehicular crimes: Makes it easier to tell if a license plate is something like “9901IQ” or “GGO1I0.”
  • For Internet users: Prevents from picking identical-looking usernames to troll you.
  • For programmers: helps avoid errors when programming (is that variable a lower-case “L,” or is it a capital “i”).




Fig. 1: These three extremely common symbols all look identical in many fonts and styles of handwriting. Bottom: an unambiguous form of that symbol. Top: a common way of writing the symbol shown on the bottom.




Fig. 2: A more comprehensive list of letters that are potentially confusable (although they may have subtle distinctions). The “0” and “O” and “9 / g” are probably the next-worst offenders, after the 1/I/l triplet described in Figure 1. The “7 vs 1” confusion is regional; in some European countries: the “1” is more often written with a substantial diagonal stroke, which makes the 7’s cross-bar more important. In America, the 7 is rarely written with a cross-bar, since the 1 usually has only a minor (or nonexistent) diagonal stroke.


Fig. 3: A comprehensive proposal for replacing potentially-ambiguous symbols, with examples.


PROS: Helps avoid many common errors! Maybe helps dyslexics? In order to gain traction for this plan, we shall claim that it does, without any evidence.

CONS: Requires that all old books be burned and old monuments be reduced to rubble, so no one is confused by the old letters.