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What is a Dittogram?

alex atkins bookshelf wordsBefore we get to the dittogram, let us set the stage by traveling back to the Middle East in the 6th to 10th Centuries, the crucible of the three major religions and the development of the Bible. Since FedEx Office and desktop scanners did not exist back then, European Jewish scribes made copies of the Old Testament Bible by hand — that is, writing out each word, letter by letter, sentence by sentence. It was long, tedious, and painstaking working, taking up to fifteen months to copy a Bible. At that time, the Bible was not the unified book we recognize today — quite the opposite: it was a collection of scrolls covering a wide range of genres (poetry, history, narrative, wisdom, lament, and apocalyptic literature) written by many different authors. In fact, the word bible is derived from the Greek word biblia, meaning “many books.” All of these stories were transmitted from generation to generation via the oral tradition for more than a thousand years until they were finally written down. Fortunately, archaeologists have discovered and identified some of these early sources, including the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Aleppo Codex, and the Leningrad Codex. The scribes worked from this collection of scrolls, written in Hebrew, to create copies of the Old Testament, or the Torah. Unlike God, the scribes were not perfect and introduced two types of errors. In the field of linguistics or textual criticism, a dittogram (or dittography) is defined as a letter, word, or phrase that is accidentally repeated by a copyist or scribe. For example, a scribe who was copying the ten commandments, could have accidentally written: “Thou shalt not not commit adultery.” Oops. Of course, the scribe could also do the opposite, and leave out a word, known as haplography; for example: “Thous shalt commit adultery.” Yikes! (However, a wonderful example of a Freudian slip!)

So now that you have been introduced to the dittogram via those mischievous scribes, we can fast forward to the present where you will now be introduced to the dittogram in the realm of word play. In this context, a dittogram is defined as a sentence with consecutive homonyms (words with similar sounds but different meanings). Although the term might be foreign to you, you are no stranger to the dittogram because you have probably uttered your fair share of them. For example, if you have ever been to a restaurant and requested, “We’d like a table for four,” then you just used one: “for” and “four.” Congrats! Below are other examples of dittograms for your enjoyment and inspiration.

My roommate said that she knew you.

His cash cache is under the mattress.

You can write right after the bell rings.

That loud noise annoys me every morning.

The student read red books only.

A grisly grizzly wandered into the cabin.

Our hour spent together was so memorable.

Shirley surely can run fast.

He could smell the odor from afar: “The nose knows,” he said.

She enjoyed reading the novel novel.

The soccer score was two to two.

The zoo opened a new gnu exhibit.

The foul fowl ran around the pond.

Tom will marry merry Mary next month.

The children were lost in the maize maze.

The whole hole was left exposed.

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Read related posts:

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What is a Mondegreen?
Words Related to How We Process Words
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