by Leonard Gordon
Word Ways, 1990


In the November 1979 Word Ways, the editor explored the subject of letter-shift words (words which can be transmuted into each other by constant shifts along the alphabet, as CHEER to JOLLY or PECAN to TIGER). Confining himself to the Merriam-Webster Pocket Dictionary, he showed that letter-shift words come in 13 varieties, acccording to the distance shifted along the alphabet. More recently, the topic of letter-shift words was reopened by Dave Morice (who exhibited an analogue device for more quickly finding such pairs) and Anthony Sebastian (who showed how it could be done using a spreadsheet program). About the only thing Sebastian's method for finding letter-shift words can do for a logologist is give him eyestrain. In fact, computer facilities required for the job are less than needed for the spreadsheet. I wrote a program in Quickbasic 4.0. To show how readily results can be obtained, I analyzed a somewhat larger corpus: the Official Scrabble Players Dictionary, for letter-shift words. For four-letter words, all 13 varieties appear:

1 deer-effs, ohms-pint, adds-beet, anna-boob, czar-dabs, gnar-hobs, char-dibs, inks-jolt, star-tubs, knar-lobs, ants-bout, izar-jabs, odor-pops

2 slam-unco, wyle-yang, slag-unci, typy-vara, pyic-rake

3 crop-furs, cord-frug, molt-prow, drip-guls, dolt-grow, mold-prog, crap-fuds, perk-shun, drab-gude, cloy-forb, colt-frow, doxy-grab, glib-jole, mola-prod, axal-dado, pixy-slab, peri-shul, cold-frog, baal-eddo, ploy-sorb, cobb-free, olla-rood, milt-plow, pily-slob, folk-iron, proa-surd, pets-shul

4 fang-jerk, hark-levo, luna-pyre, sawn-wear, swop-wast, yank-cero, dawn-hear, okeh-soil, pean-tier, lang-perk, punk-tyro, pull-typp, ceil-gimp, open-stir, hewn-liar, heil-limp, pelt-show, lawn-pear, opal-step, lean-pier, capo-gets, dank-hero, salp-wept, puna-tyre, loop-psst, gale-kepi, pele-tipi, peop-tits, sear-wive, pawn-tear, lane-peri

5 fizz-knee, ordo-twit, azon-fets, djin-ions, fido-knit, nidi-snin, aped-fuji

6 piny-vote, buts-hazy, wits-cozy, fils-lory, ache-gink, limy-rose, nils-tory, hymn-nest, guff-mall, boff-hull, foam-lugs, luau-raga, luny-rate, much-sain, loam-rugs, gies-moky, eche-kink, lion-rout, nisi-toyo, dols-jury, oxim-udos, fohn-lunt, quey-wake, fumy-lase, guts-mazy, huic-naoi, oafs-ugly, ails-gory, mumm-sass, sync-yeti, puls-vary, quay-wage, loch-ruin, nill-torr, wolf-curl, bomb-hush, winy-cote, dodo-juju, mule-sark, joey-puke, lowe-ruck, moly-sure, nome-tusk, jiff-poll, liny-rote, buff-hall, gulf-marl, wily-core, wich-coin, muff-sall, john-punt, dodo-juju, juju-papa

7 aril-hyps, abet-hila, tahr-ahoy, ahem-holt, beer-illy, prex-wyle, link-spur, whee-doll, ling-spun, ibex-pile, whit-dopa, yeti-flap, atma-hath, phew-wold, whir-dopy, lane-shul

8 batt-jibb, baff-jinn, cans-kiva, khan-spiv, daff-linn, skua-asci, loaf-twin, calk-kits, weal-emit, dawk-lies, haes-pima, hawk-pies, eses-mama, gowk-owes, kaes-sima, egad-moil, sims-aqua, seas-amia, tall-bitt, task-bias, talk-bits, vans-diva, acts-sulk

9 size-brin, drib-mark, elds-numb, ilex-rung, slip-bury, brie-karn, trig-carp, sire-bran, sris-barb, gird-pram, spic-byrl, crib-lark, girl-prau, trek-cant, spiv-byre, silk-brut, berg-knap

10 fuji-pets, deed-noon, reed-boon, seed-coon, were-gobo, zebu-jole, feed-poon, idem-snow, meet-wood, semi-cows, cedi-mons, feet-pood, byte-lido, jeed-toon, tout-dyed, redo-bony, cede-mono, etui-odes, huff-repp, whew-grog, weet-good, jehu-tore, duly-nevi, peed-zoon, weed-goon, eaux-okeh, beef-loop

11 spot-daze, haji-slut, path-ales, clad-raps, vats-gled, spit-date, spat-dale, itch-tens, stun-defy, eats-pled, dash-olds, hade-slop, paid-alto, rads-clod, hats-sled, pith-ates, etch-pens, then-espy, pets-aped, rape-clap, hide-stop, hint-stye

12 road-damp, soil-eaux, torc-fado, ambo-myna, zips-lube, gobs-sane, goys-sake, hoys-take, jogs-vase, jobs-vane, figs-ruse, pogy-bask, pops-babe, toys-fake, umps-gybe, shog-etas, dogs-pase, hods-tape, koas-wame, fibs-rune, riff-durr, bods-nape, doff-parr, goad-samp, gids-supe, tors-fade, cuss-ogee, rids-dupe, tins-fuze, boas-name, dodo-papa, fogs-rase, goas-same, firs-rude, gift-surf, tons-faze, smog-eyas, ribs-dune, foys-rake, fons-raze, hogg-tass, kors-wade, hips-tube, goby-sank, dido-pupa, psst-beef, mott-yaff, soil-eaux

13 reef-errs, navy-anil, jura-when, ghat-tung, sent-frag, barf-ones, gnat-tang, pung-chat, crag-pent, orra-been, ebbs-roof, purs-chef, balk-onyx, urea-hern, rear-erne, rail-envy, flap-sync

Letter-shift triples include: lane-shul-peri, dodo-juju-papa, flap-sync-yeti, aped-fuji-pets, eaux-okeh-soil, psst-loop-beef. Some pairs are rather evocative: cold-frog, jehu-tore, grab-doxy, ugly-oats, pens-etch, hush-bomb, rape-clap, jerk-fang, pops-babe, and the commentary on the Exxon Valdez disaster, errs-reef.

For five-letter words, one can also find examples of all 13 letter-shifts. Ones found by Dmitri Borgmann in Language on Vacation (Scribner's, 1965) are labeled with an asterisk:

1 sneer-toffs*, adder-beefs*, steer-tuffs, sheer-tiffs*

2 osmic-quoke

3 teloi-whorl

4 banjo-ferns*, pecan-tiger*, lutea-pyxie, danio-herms, alkyd-epoch, ratan-vexer, bejan-finer, ganja-kerne

5 fizzy-kneed*

6 butyl-hazer, wombs-cushy*, gunny-matte*, viola-bourg*, golly-murre*, ahull-gnarr, johns-punty, eches-kinky, wolfs-curly*, gummy-masse, bolls-hurry, munch-satin*, pulpy-varve, molas-surgy, jinni-potto, linum-rotas, bulls-harry*, gulfs-marly, mumms-sassy, mocha-suing, jinns-potty, mills-sorry*, buffi-hallo, mulch-sarin, nutty-tazze, ginny-motte, jimmy-posse*, gulls-marry*, wiles-corky*, luffs-rally*, muffs-sally*, nulls-tarry*, chain-ingot*, fills-lorry*, noggs-tummy

7 oxter-vealy, latex-shale*, wheel-dolls*, later-shaly*, cheer-jolly*, timer-aptly*, tenet-alula*, hotel-ovals*, nonet-uvula*

8 tsars-baiza, setal-ambit

9 jerky-snath*, sleep-bunny*, xeric-gnarl, river-arena, wiver-frena

10 uredo-ebony*, secco-commy, sewed-cogon, ruddi-benny, cubed-melon*

11 trips-ectad, hints-styed, spots-dazed*, spits-dated*, drips-octad*, raphe-clasp

12 touch-fagot*, dirum-pudgy, gassy-smeek, hoggs-tasse, didos-pupae, torus-fadge

13 frere-serer, craal-penny, green-terra*, creel-perry*

One can find only a few six-letter letter-shift pairs:

1 anteed-bouffe, steeds-tuffet

4 lallan-pepper, ganjah-kernel

6 bombyx-hushed, fusion-layout

7 inkier-purply, manful-thumbs

10 muumuu-weewee

11 splits-dawted

There are only two seven-letter examples in the Official Scrabble Players Dictionary, both of which also appear in Language on Vacation:

3 primero-sulphur

13 abjurer-nowhere

Letter-shift pairs for (n+1)-letter words must be sorted into 26 times as many boxes as those for n-letter words; the chance of finding an eight-letter letter-shift pair must be small, even in larger dictionaries such as Webster's Unabridged. Using Levine's pattern word list to identify likely candidates, the editor found the tautonymic example WILIWILI-COROCORO which he reported in the November 1979 Word Ways. A computer search of Webster's revealed that this is the only eight-letter example, but two more seven-letter ones, BUMPILY-UNFIBER and CHECHEN-PURPURA, are there.

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