Change a letter, change a word
HITS HAPPEN, blares a car insurance company promoting its “accident forgiveness insurance.”
Change a letter, change a word.
How can you add, subtract, move or change letters or syllables to make your copy more creative via wordplay?
1. Add or subtract a syllable.
Smirch was a verb, reports Barbara Wallraff, author of Word Fugitives: In Pursuit of Wanted Words, before William Shakespeare added the prefix be- to it. And impediment was in use for at least 200 years before Shakespeare came up with impede.
How can you add or subtract a syllable to create a new word? Here are four approaches to try:
2. Change a letter.
The Washington Post’s Style Invitational might invite readers to “take any word, add, subtract or alter a single letter, and redefine the word.” Recent responses include:
- Diddleman, a person who adds nothing but time to an effort
- Nominatrix, a spike-heeled woman who controls the selection of candidates for party whip
- Compenisate, to buy a red Porsche for reasons you don’t quite understand
3. Change a letter, then redefine.
The Post also invites readers to add, subtract or change one letter in a word and supply a new definition. Among the top entries:
- Dopeler effect: the tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when they come at you rapidly
- Giraffiti: vandalism spray-painted very high
- Intaxication: euphoria at getting a refund from the IRS, which lasts until you realize it was your money to start with
- Reintarnation: coming back to life as a hillbilly
- Sarchasm: the gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the reader who doesn’t get it
4. Oui! Change a letter in a foreign word, then redefine.
New York Magazine invited readers to change a single letter in a foreign phrase, then provide a definition. Some of the best new phrases:
- Cogito, eggo sum: I think, therefore I am a waffle.
- Harlez-vous Francais? Can you drive a French motorcycle?
- Mazel ton: tons of good luck
- Quip pro quo: a fast retort
- Veni, vidi, vice: I came, I saw, I partied.
5. Create definitions for groups of things.
In An Exaltation of Larks, James Lipton, now better known as the host of Inside the Actors Studio on Bravo, publishes “venerable terms of venery,” or collective nouns to define a group of objects, such as a pride of lions.
Among the terms Lipton has published:
- a phalanx of flashers (Kurt Vonnegut)
- a mews of cathouses (Neil Simon)
- an om of Buddhists (George Plimpton)
What’s the term of venery for a group of vice presidents? A meeting of your top clients? A conference of communicators?