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This is not really an SF question, but about a short story by Isaac Asimov, so I think it fits. In one of his many "mysteries", someone asks for a rather short word with three double letters in it.

I don't remember whether it is among the Black Widowers, or the Union Club or any other series of this kind. Or maybe even among the Azazel ones, in which case it would be either Fantasy of SF, (depending on whether Azazel is a demon or a creature from a more advanced civilisation, an ambiguity the Good Doctor insists on maintaining). Anyway, I would like to find the title of this story.


Edit: I have been racking my brain about Paulie_D vs Clara Diaz Sanchez, and something came back. The fact that the word was "committee" rather than bookkeeper or any other one was not important per se. The point was that there was a brilliant but surly kid who had a clue but he refused to tell it to adults, considering them all as idiots. Until one adult was bright enough to guess his enigmas, I think there were more than just the one about "committee", and he agreed to tell him his clue.

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  • 5
    The trick answer is "woollen". That kind of humour would probably have appealed to the good doctor. Feb 16, 2021 at 7:00
  • 2
    But "woollen" has only two double letters, not three.
    – Alfred
    Feb 16, 2021 at 7:03
  • 35
    It has a double-u - BOOM, BOOM!! :-) Feb 16, 2021 at 7:08
  • 3
    Maybe it's one of the Fleming Stone stories by Carlolyn Wells. In one, solving a crime hinged on the misspelling of committee as "comite" (it revelead that the person who wrote the letter was French). Not really science fiction though. Feb 16, 2021 at 8:54
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    I made a full-text search on all of Asimov's short stories. Neither "committee" nor "bookkeeper" is used in that sense.
    – Ubik
    Feb 16, 2021 at 20:09

2 Answers 2

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Twelve Years Old. (AKA The 12 Year Old Mystery) The Union Club Mysteries.

Griswold manages to outsmart a twelve-year-old smart alek who knows an English word which is short, simple, common and cannot be pronounced if written all in capitals.

The word, of course, is “POLISH,” because it’s pronounced one way if spelled “polish” and another if spelled “Polish,” as any twelve-year-old smart alek knows. Asimov dealt with innumerable such creatures over the course of his career—including, alas, myself—so this is one way for him to get back at them. It’s relatively pleasant as Union Club mysteries go.

I don't recall if "committee" was part of it. It's possible that you are conflating two stories. But I think the smart-alec kid is the one you want.

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    Oddly, another example struck me the other day: Wear rhymes with ‘hear’, while wear rhymes with ‘hair’.
    – gidds
    Feb 16, 2021 at 17:10
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    Asimov used the same polish/Polish idea in one of the Black Widowers stories but as dinner table conversation, not the solution to the problem (although I think it provided a clue). The wordplay must have definitely appealed to him.
    – Dragonel
    Feb 16, 2021 at 18:26
  • @Gidds or reading (pronounced ree-ding) as oppose to Reading (Red-ing) in both PA & England
    – Dragonel
    Feb 16, 2021 at 18:31
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    Polish up this answer just a bit and it will be perfect!
    – Thierry
    Feb 17, 2021 at 1:43
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    @Thierry, the point is that there are two words, polish (to make something shine) and Polish (originating in Poland). The words are written the same, except for the initial capital. They are pronounced differently. If you see it written in lowercase, you can tell whether it is polish or Polish. But if you see it written in uppercase you can't tell. WOUND, for instance, is an ambiguity in either upper or lower case. But POLISH is only ambiguous in uppercase. As pointed out above, it also applies to the town of Reading which is pronounced Red-ding.
    – Pete
    Feb 17, 2021 at 21:30
17

It could be Encyclopedia Brown by Donald J. Sobol

Encyclopedia Brown is a series of books featuring the adventures of boy detective Leroy Brown, nicknamed "Encyclopedia" for his intelligence and range of knowledge

A contest is held in which contestants complete a quiz for 3 secret prizes for 1st, 2nd and 3rd place. The first place winner receives the best prize: a watch, which he discovers has been broken. The theory of the crime is one of the contestants secretly examined the prizes and played with the watch and broke it. The culprit turns out to be the 2nd place girl that purposely missed a question she should have gotten right: "Name a word that has three double-letters." The girl referred to herself as a "bookkeeper". Assuming she remembered such a fact, the solution fails to prove why she threw the contest or definitively eliminate her from the suspect pool of the other contest losers.

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    One of my favourite series when I was a kid.
    – tgrignon
    Feb 16, 2021 at 13:24
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    I miss being able to say a plot was Encyclopedia Browned or that Bugs Meany is Gonna Walk (TvTropes links!)
    – FuzzyBoots
    Feb 16, 2021 at 15:33
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    Encyclopedia Brown: The smartest man in the whole damn town.
    – NomadMaker
    Feb 16, 2021 at 20:33
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    This is undoubtedly the correct answer. I loved Encyclopedia Brown, and the word "bookkeeper" has been stuck in my brain for 30 years.
    – Lindsey D
    Feb 17, 2021 at 5:40

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