Thanks - and great idea.
I checked the caps lock key - it functioned at the grub password (wouldn't let me into grub if I enabled the caps lock key and entered my password....successfully entered grub when I toggled the caps lock key).
Edited the kernel command line (played with the caps lock key off/on).
In singleuser mode, I double-checked that the caps lock functioned as expected (it did).
bash: PASSWD: command not found
(expected...double checking capslock status)
PID TTY TIME CMD
1449 tty1 00:00:00 bash
1482 tty1 00:00:00 ps
(make sure caps lock was off)
Changing password for user root.
New UNIX password: <abcd1234>
BAD PASSWORD: it is based on a dictionary word
Retype new UNIX password: <abcd1234>
passwd: all authentication tokens updated successfully.
reboot. (to runlevel 3 - skipping the gdm/xdm/kdm...
Fedora release 9 (Sulphur) Kernel 184.108.40.206-78.2.8.fc9.i686 on an i686 (tty1)
goob login:root (I know I'm in lowercase) :)
password for root is still not recognized.
Looks like the only recourse is a reinstall (the recovery cd doesn't help here either).
I'd sure like to figure out the issue - but it looks like this one may have to be attributed to bad luck