i: Words Within Words

Gender-neutral language is a thorny topic, mined with pitfalls (to thoroughly mix metaphors)—and a topic I have no intention of addressing just yet. However, there's an old and somewhat tired joke about sexist language that nicely illustrates the actual topic at hand. The joke says that to avoid sexism, the "man" part of the word "human" should be changed to "person," and the "son" part of "person" should be changed to "child," resulting in the unwieldy term "huperchild."

Taking the word-substitution idea out of the political arena, observe that the word "feline" contains the word "line." By replacing the internal contained word with a related word, you might end up with "fecurve."

And therein lies this week's puzzle-game: Inword, created by Geoff Hopcraft. To create an Inword clue, take a word that contains another word, then substitute a related word (synonym, antonym, or just a commonly associated word) for the contained word. This substitution process may be repeated on other contained words. Players can solve the puzzle by reconstituting the original word, given the altered word and a little information about the substitutions.

For instance, if the clue is "fecurve (1)" (where the "1" indicates that only one substitution has been made), the answer is "feline." Similarly, "readaughtercompetent (2)" could be a clue for "reasonable."

Sometimes the substituted internal word interacts with the non-substituted letters to form a new internal word. For instance, if "insipid" is changed to "indrinkid," the internal word "kid" appears, allowing for further substitutions. When substitutions overlap in this way, the clue is marked with an asterisk: "indrinchild (2*)" indicates that you need to make two overlapping substitutions to get back to the original word. Note that it's usually considered a little unfair to substitute again for the entirety of a substituted word (substituting for "drink" in "indrinkid"), but substituting for an internal word entirely within a previously substituted word is fine (such as substituting for "ink" in "indrinkid").

Here are some of Geoff's original Inword clues (with a few others mixed in); see if you can figure them out. (Answers available on a separate page.)

Some relatively easy clues to warm up on:

  • tshe (1)
  • pinkirect (1)
  • gtope (1)
  • capendulumal (1)
  • ironle (1)
  • tsleeple (1)

Some harder clues and multiple (non-overlapping) substitutions:

  • manger (1) (this one works in both directions!)
  • bburnn (1)
  • fsuny (1)
  • citch (1)
  • voteric (1)
  • cossweepolibask (2)
  • beentialean (2)
  • cryistwitch (2)
  • sheeprollctiowe (3)
  • pasowall (3)
  • ffishing dpossess? (1, 1)
  • ssailort (1) (a little obscure)

Some overlapping substitutions:

  • bistorek (2*)
  • joflquery (2*)
  • chfopoemd (2*)
  • pfrsyuck (3*)
  • mfhery (2*)

And finally, some silly items involving trademarks, brand names, and other proper nouns:

  • ffresh_start (1)
  • millermouseure (2)
  • twinchester (1)
  • sdeville (1)


Sometime around seventh grade, I saw a list of words which contained their own synonyms; to be more precise, in each of these words you could remove some of the letters (not necessarily adjacent) and be left with a word meaning roughly the same thing. The only two words I remember in this category are "blossom" (which, if you removed the "ss," contains "bloom") and "appropriate" (which contains "apt"). I'd love to see more words like this; please send me any you come up with.

I'll print the best new Inword clues I receive (with answers) on the reader comments page, along with the best synonym-containing words contributed.

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