Word Ward Bard Band…

Word

Worm

Warm

Harm

Hare

Hire

Fire

Firs

First

First I

First in

First tin

First thin

First thing

First things

First things a

First things an

First things ban

First things bane

First things sane

First things same

First things tame

First things time

First things tire

First things tires

First things fires

First things firs

First things first

First things first: I

First things first: I a

First things first: I ad

First things first: I bad

First things first: I ban

First things first: I bane

First things first: I lane

First things first: I lone

First things first: I love

First things first: I love I

First things first: I love in

First things first: I love tin

First things first: I love win

First things first: I love won

First things first: I love wont

First things first: I love want

First things first: I love wart

First things first: I love warm

First things first: I love worm

First things first: I love word

First things first: I love word a

First things first: I love word ad

First things first: I love word fad

First things first: I love word fade

First things first: I love word fades

First things first: I love word fates

First things first: I love word mates

First things first: I love word mate

First things first: I love word late

First things first: I love word lite

First things first: I love word lit

First things first: I love word lot

First things first: I love word plot

First things first: I love word ploy

First things first: I love word-play.

First things first: I love word-play. Sorry, I just had to do that. 😌 (I always do wordplay before discourse.) That little thing I was doing up there is called a word ladder. Lewis Carroll, the author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, was the mastermind behind this type of linguistic game. Designing a word ladder is simple—at least in theory. Each “rung” on the ladder is a word that deviates from the previous one by only a single letter. This letter can be added to the beginning, middle, or end of a word; can be removed from it entirely; or can replace a previously existing letter. But there’s one catch: each linguistic rung has to be a real word. For instance, I couldn’t have attached “wxrm” to “worm.” In this case, I extended the rule to include groups of words.

For the purpose of talking more effectively about word ladders, it will help for us to create some new terms. I’m going to define a pair of words (or groups of words) as “traversables” if they can be connected by a word ladder. We have just proven that “word” and “first things first: I love word-play” are traversables in the above example. Alternately, pairs of terms are “non-traversabless” if they cannot be connected by word ladders. For singular words/terms, “unreachables” cannot be connected by word ladders of any length, while “reachables” can be. Furthermore, we can use modifiers like “easily” and “barely” to describe the extent to which words and terms are “reachables” or “traversables” (i.e., the number of ladders that can be constructed).


Let’s Have Some Fun Now

I’m really curious how these ideas could be applied to gain a better understanding of the English language.

One thing the study of word letters could tell us is how, for lack of a better term, normal the spellings of various words are. “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” is most certainly an unreachable word, which makes its appearance extremely unique. On the other hand, “cat” is an easily reachable word, which implies that it is a very ordinary looking word. Because our brains tend to be able to perceive novel stimuli with a greater level of ease, I wonder whether unreachables, and even barely reachables, might stand out more when we read them. Additionally, it would be interesting if word ladders could inspire some novel forms of poetry, or even word-based visual art.

With that, I leave you to “say,” I mean “slay,” I mean “play” around with some word ladders. Let me know if you come across any interesting findings! Also, check out some of Lewis Carroll’s work on word-play if you have the time.

—PB

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