atkins-bookshelf-wordsDefinition: A type of pun that involves changing one (or more) letters in a word (frequently, a common phrase, idiom, or the title of a movie, book, or song) to create irony or humor.

Related word: Paragrammatist – A person who makes paragrams.

Etymology: From the Greek para (“beside or by”) and gramma (“letter”) that literally translated means “joke by letter” or “jokes by the letter.” The Oxford English Dictionary records the first use by Hobbes in Rhetorick (1681): “Paragrams, that is allusions by words, are graceful if they be well placed.” Punsters will be disappointed that few dictionaries include this word, and surprisingly, it is not found in what is considered the definitive books about wordplay: The Dictionary of Wordplay by Dave Morice and Wordplay: A Curious Dictionary of Language Oddities by Chris Cole. 

Magazines frequently use paragrams in their story titles. For example, a Sports Illustrated article (2005) used the title “Making a Fit Stop” for an article that focused on an exercise program for NASCAR pit crews.

Readers of California Magazine, the alumni magazine of U.C. Berkeley, have been treated to paragrams in the Twisted Titles sections for many years (who knew Cal grads had such a punny sense of humor?). In November 1991, editor Russell Schoch, who appreciated a clever pun, encouraged readers to submit their Twisted Titles: “Take a saying or the title of a book, play, or movie and change only one letter, then follow it up with a snappy [descriptor].” Examples from the magazine include:
The Unbearable Lightness of Bling: The problem with fake jewelry
What I Did for Rove: [George] Dubya reminisces in song
Plate Teutonics: Germans sitting down to dinner
Kidney Scones: Another delicacy from the United Kingdom

The following are examples of paragrams (followed by the original title or saying):

Swine Lake (Swan Lake)
Withering Heights (Wuthering Heights)
The high cost of loving (The high cost of living)
Lore of the Flies (Lord of the Flies)
Forrest Gimp (Forrest Gump)
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hide (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde)
The Stung (The Sting)
Apocalypse Not (Apocalypse Now)
The Silence of the Limbs (The Silence of the Lambs)
In Search of Lust Time (In Search of Lost Time)

Read related posts: Top Ten Puns
Witty Anagrams
Difficult Tongue Twisters
Words with Letters in Alphabetical Order

For further reading: Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd Edition edited by John Simpson and Edmund Weiner, Oxford University Press (1991).

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