Finally — the long awaited, most challenging letter has arrived! No. 24 in our journey through the architectural dictionary is X.

Although there are approximately 400 words in the English dictionary that begin with the letter X, you will be hard pressed to find more than three words in the architectural dictionary beginning with this letter. A deep dive, however, revealed xyst, which is pronounced “zist.”

There are a number of words in the architectural vocabulary that sound like X words, but actually begin with “E,” such as expressionism, exonarthex and exit. Conversely, the pronunciation for xyst sounds like it would begin with Z: way too confusing!

Xyst is a unique word for a familiar architectural design feature — a roofed colonnade. The Greeks and Romans constructed long, open-air, covered porticos to provide shade and shelter for their athletes to practice under for wrestling, running and other sports.

The shelters were often permanent, built with stone columns and a wooden trellis for a roof. A xyst also can be formed with trees and other plant material to provide needed protection from the elements. A familiar landscape architectural feature — a covered garden walk lined with tall trees sculpted to provide shade and shelter over a pedestrian pathway — would qualify as a xyst.

The good news is this four-letter word is worth 14 points in Scrabble and 13 points in Words with Friends. These games may be the best way to make use of this unique architectural term!

  • Are there other uses of the word xyst? Xyst is becoming a popular word found in music, fashion, business and sports, including a tennis racket manufacturer, a sustainable design consultant, a fashion designer and a music magazine.
  • What is the origin of the word xyst? Xyst comes from the Greek word xystos, meaning a covered colonnade.
  • Are there other X words in the architectural dictionary? There are two other words in addition to xyst: xenodocheum, a receiving room in classical architecture; and xylol, a colorless paint solvent.
  • This column is contributed by Gregory J. Scott, AIA, a local architect with more than four decades of national experience in innovation and design. Email

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