Henry Mullish hqm2011 at NYU.EDU
Mon Nov 24 16:30:03 UTC 2003

It is true to say that since the introduction of word processors, the typing of documents has become so much easier and convenient for just about everyone who has the need to communicate by means of the written word.

Most word processors come with a spell checker, thus making the possibility of misspelling a word that much less. But not altogether; it is possible that you may type a word that is incorrect and yet the spell checker finds nothing wrong with it. I am referring to words that contain a transposition of two adjacent letters such that the unintended word is also a word – consequently the trusted spell checker lets it slide through, perhaps unnoticed. Take for example the word 'nuclear'. If the first two letters 'nu' are transposed, the new word becomes 'unclear', a perfectly good English word.

I have dubbed these pairs of words ‘transponyms’. Just in case you don’t think there are many of them, take a look at the following list which I have developed just over the last week or so. I suspect there must be at least over 200 of such pairs in the English language. I shall be happy to include any that you may discover. Of course, the very same phenomenon may easily occur in other languages too.

It seems to me that for the very serious document, an automatic check should be incorporated into the standard spell checker for the possibility that such errors might have been inadvertently included. Do you think that the writers of spell checking software ought to be made aware of this loophole?

In any case, here is my current list of transponym pairs:

able bale; acre care; act cat; add dad; aft fat; ale lea; alter later; am ma; amid maid; amp map; angel angle; any nay; apt pat; arid raid; arm ram; art rat; asp sap; awn wan; awry wary; bar bra; bard brad; barn bran; beast beats; best bets; beat beta; blot bolt; boast boats; boost boots; brunt burnt; bust buts; calm clam; carve crave; cast cats; claps clasp; clot colt; coast coats; code coed; cost cots; crud curd; cups cusp; dairy diary; dart drat; discreet discrete; does odes; door odor; ear era; eats east eats; elan lean; ever veer; exist exits; farmer framer; fast fats; feast feats; field filed; filers fliers; files flies; fired fried; fist fits; form from; forth froth; gaps gasp; garb grab; gaol goal; gird grid; gust guts; infarction infraction; jest jets; just juts; lair liar; lest lets; lair liar; lips lisp; lost lots; mast mats; mien mine; mist mits; most mots; nest nets; nuclear unclear; ones noes; opt pot; option potion; orb rob; owe woe; own won; past pats; perfect prefect; pest pets; ploy; poly; polo pool; post pots; quiet quite; rasp raps; roes rose; roost roots; run urn; rust ruts; sacred scared; slat slat; salve slave; sap spa; silt slit; spilt split; sue use; tarp trap; tear tera; there three; tide tied; tier tire; tired tried; tow two; trail trial; used sued; vast vats; vest vets; warp wrap; west wets; wist wits;

I shall be happy to hear of your opinions.

Henry Mullish

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