paragram (word play)

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

The Worst Paragram. Copyright © 2010, Zazzle Inc.


A paragram is a type of verbal play consisting of the alteration of a letter or a series of letters in a word. Adjective: paragrammatic. Also called a textonym.

See Examples and Observations below. Also see:


From the Greek, "jokes by the letter"


Examples and Observations

  • "A specific kind of word play traditionally called paronomasia, or more currently called a paragram, changes one or more letters of a word or expression to create humor or irony or, Collins (2004) suggests, to achieve 'dramatic, critical--or bathetic--effect' (p. 129). Thus, Swan Lake becomes Swine Lake in a Marshall book (1999) about pigs performing a ballet; a chapter on grammar in electronic communication in Woe Is I (O'Conner, 2003) is titled 'E-mail Intuition'; and Lars Anderson (2005) uses a paragram in the title of a Sports Illustrated article about exercise programs for NASCAR pit crews with 'Making a Fit Stop.' Once they're aware of paragrams . . ., students will find them everywhere."
    (Deborah Dean, Bringing Grammar to Life. International Reading Association, 2007)

  • Paragrammic Song Titles
    "A paragram is a play on words made by altering a word, or sometimes only a letter, in a common expression or literary allusion. I did it earlier in 'an axiom waiting to happen'--a play on the colloquialism, 'an accident waiting to happen.'

    "The majority of the following paragram titles emanate from the Nashville area; it would seem that country writers have virtually cornered the market on twisting the idiom. . . .
    Friends in Low Places
    The High Cost of Loving
    Every Heart Should Have One
    Can't Teach My Old Heart New Tricks
    You're Gonna Love Yourself in the Morning"
    (Sheila Davis, The Songwriter's Idea Book. Writer's Digest Books, 1992)

  • Julia Kristeva and the Figure of Antisemantics
    - In her work of the late 1960s, . . . [literary critic Julia] Kristeva uses the term 'paragram' (also used by Saussure) rather than anagram because she is intent on emphasizing the idea that language is, in its essence, doubly constituted: it has a material base which insists poetically . . . in the textual message or in the text as a vehicle of communication. 'Paragram' rather than 'anagram,' then, because the poet is not only creating poetic language, but is equally created by his language. . . .

    "'Paragram' thus points beyond the letter as such to the phonic pattern of language, that is, towards its 'volume' which 'breaks up the linearity of the signifying chain.'"
    (John Lechte, Julia Kristeva, 1990; rpt. Routledge, 2013)

    - "The paragram (which in its rhetorical manifestation includes acrostics and anagrams) is a fundamental disposition in all combinatory systems of writing and contributes to phoneticism its partly transphenomenal character. Paragrams are what Nicholas Abraham terms figures of antisemantics, those aspects of language that escape all discourse and that commit writing to a vast, nonintentional reserve, According to Leon Roudiez, a text may be described as paragrammic 'in the sense that its organization of words (and their denotations), grammar, and syntax is challenged by the infinite possibilities provided by letters and phonemes combining to form networks of significance not accessible through conventional reading habits' (in Kristeva 1984, 256)."
    (Steve McCaffery, Prior to Meaning: The Protosemantic and Poetics. Northwestern University Press, 2001)

  • Paragrams and Predictive Text
    "A new language is being developed by mobile phone-addicted kids based on the predictive text of their treasured handsets.

    "Key words are replaced by the first alternative that comes up on a mobile phone using predictive text--changing 'cool' into 'book,' 'awake' into 'cycle,' 'beer' into 'adds,' 'pub' into 'sub' and 'barmaid' into 'carnage.' . . .

    "The replacement words--technically paragrams, but commonly known as textonyms, adaptonyms or cellodromes--are becoming part of regular teen banter.

    "Some of the most popular textonyms show intriguing links between the originally intended word and the one the predictive text throws up--'eat' becomes 'fat' and 'kiss' becomes 'lips,' 'home' is 'good' and the vodka brand 'Smirnoff' becomes 'poison.'"
    (Kate Kelland, "Textonyms Give Mobile Addicts New Language.", Feb. 6, 2008)


    Pronunciation: PAR-a-gram

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    Your Citation
    Nordquist, Richard. "paragram (word play)." ThoughtCo, Mar. 8, 2016, Nordquist, Richard. (2016, March 8). paragram (word play). Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "paragram (word play)." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 23, 2018).