Word Ways


A. Ross Eckler


Most logologists have noticed that some words, such as SHAME and SHARE, are relatively near each other, whereas others, such as TONIC and WATER, are far apart. If pressed for a definition of the distance between two words, they might suggest that it is equal to the number of letters that must be altered to transmute one word into the other. The nearer two words are to each other, the easier it is to accidentally change one into another by a typographical miscue. A large number of English words are only one letter apart, a situation humorously exploited for many years in the Readers Digest column "Pardon, Your Slip Is Showing". Students of the language have suggested that English has more potentiality for mistakes of this sort than other languages do; see, for example, Petr Beckmann's The Structure of Language: A New Approach (Golem Press, 1972) for the development of this idea.