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Treebeard's Stumper Answer
15 February 2002

Redivider Words

Internet addresses like "" must follow certain rules. Letters, digits, and dashes are allowed in the domain name before the dot, but no spaces or other punctuation. Upper and lower case doesn't matter, so many sites like Dunn's use capital letters to separate words. So what about (about law) and (nothing but ice). They must lead to the same Internet site since they are the same letters. The stumper is to find other interesting examples of character strings that can be broken up in different ways to say very different things. It's hard!

"Redivider" is a palindrome that reads the same forwards and backwards. This stumper is a different kind of word-play that redivides characters to say different things. "Justice" is an example of what Richard Lederer calls a charade word that can be divided into smaller parts that are themselves words. (In the game of charades, we act out the big words by dividing them into smaller words.) Joni Mitchell uses the charade word "justice" in a serious way in her song "Sex Kills" about the politics of STDs:

I pulled up behind a Cadillac
We were waiting for the light
And I took a look at his license plate
It said "Just Ice"
Is justice just ice?
Governed by greed and lust?
Just the strong doing what they can
And the weak suffering what they must?
And the gas leaks
And the oil spills
And sex sells everything
And sex kills, sex kills

Charade words are fun, and not too hard to find. I consider them interesting when the redivided words are related, opposite, funny, or naughty. At least they should make sense, and all letters must be used.

The real challenge is to find character strings that can be redivided across words. For example, artist oil and art is toil can both be carved from the character string "artistoil". Whole sentences might be possible, but thinking of web domain names is a good way to widen the field to meaningful phrases and fragments. You can check Internet names right here. Network Solutions and Domain-It! have more options and sell available names. I believe ICANN and InterNIC are ultimately in charge of domain names.

www. .com

The real stumper is: why is this stumper so hard? and sound like very different Web sites, but they use exactly the same letters! I also found this set:

      Homer unclear, out in every game.
      Homer uncle a routine, very game.
      Homer uncle a rout in every game.
      Home run clear out in every game.
I think the real stumper is why it's so difficult to find phrases like these that can be redivided. Old Latin, Greek, and Hebrew were all originally written without spaces to separate words, so it's part of our language that there aren't many ambiguousruntogetherwords!


It's easy to find charade words like "beanstalk" = "beans talk," but it's surprisingly difficult to find strings of characters that can be redivided between the words into meaningful sentences or fragments. I think there's a deep reason for this, but first here's what I've found so far. This is also available as a text file that I will probably update more often than this Web page. I do see this as an on-going stumper!

Here are some redivider Web sites. The underscore_character is not allowed in real domain names, but it makes it easier to read. I haven't tried most of these to see if they are real links. pass Armour Ranch Road on my way to school) is a real business and web site) 

Here are some redivided sentences and fragments that I made or found on the Web:

Homer unclear, out in every game.
Homer uncle a routine, very game.
Homer uncle a rout in every game.
Home run clear out in every game.

Nowhere am I able to get her.
Now here, amiable together.

Nowhere is water.
Now here is water.

Martinis are also recreation.
Martin is a real sore creation.

Therapists are also recreation.
The rapist, a real sore creation.

In action, the real ways to get her.
Inaction, there always together.

Toreador, you read evil.
To read, or you're a devil.

A car, a van...
A caravan.

The noodle-soft rain swept,
Then oodles of trains wept.

Richard Lederer, Word Circus:
Ha! Thou tragedy ingrate, dwell on, superb old stag in gloom.
Hath outrage, dying, rated well? on super-bold staging loom!

Flamingo: pale, scenting a latent shark.
Flaming, opalescent in gala tents - hark!

Arlet Ottens, The rec.puzzles Archive:
Issues topping our mail: manslaughter.
Is Sue stopping our mailman's laughter?

The real ways I saw it.
There always is a wit.

You read evil tomes, Tim, at Ed's issue.
"You're a devil, Tom!" estimated sis Sue.

Bob Jacobson, Recreational Linguistics:
May, an artist, oils her oars.
"Mayan art is toil," she roars.

In can, artist oils her ants.
"Incan art is toil," she rants.

Here are some useful words and fragments for finding your own redivider sentences. The problem is that these words and phrases break on word boundries, so they really don't help finding the more interesting phrases that break between words. I'm sure this list could be much longer, but these are interesting.

acrossa cross 
adage ad age 
alienation a lie nation 
amiable am I able 
amiable togetheram I able to get her 
amok am ok 
anatomyan A to my 
are also ona real soon 
armour ranch arm our ranch 
artichoke art I choke 
art is toil artist oil 
ask a a ska  
atoneat one 
atrophy a trophy 
attendance at ten dance 
averse a verse 
avoid a void 
barfliesbarf lies 
barragebar rage 
beat be at 
beanstalkbeans talk 
bewilder be wilder 
blot to offer blotto offer 
brokeragebroke rage 
button butt on but ton
capacitycap a city 
caravan car, a van 
car smartcars mart 
car skillcars kill 
conspiracycon's piracy 
daredevildared evil 
detergent deter gent 
diplomaticallydiplomatic ally 
discovery disco very 
earshotears hot 
generationgene ration 
goodyear goody ear 
gunshotgun's hot 
gun smartguns mart 
gun skillguns kill 
heat he at 
hebrewhe brew 
heisman trophyhe is man trophy 
historyhi story 
identityID entity 
initiatein it I ate 
irate I rate 
inactionin action 
is a witI saw it 
islamI slam is lam
islandis land 
issues topping is sue stopping 
justice just ice 
mail manslaughter mailman's laughter 
manslaughter man's laughter 
martinismartin is 
meat me at 
mendacitymend a city 
mendicantmend? I can't 
molesting mole sting 
mustache must ache 
new zealand new zeal and 
notablenot ableno table
noviceno vice 
no wherenow here 
no where is waternow here is water 
oils her oars oil she roars 
office off ice 
oftentimes of ten times 
onus on us 
overtaxovert ax 
passagepass age 
penis pen is 
pets martpet smart 
pleasure plea sure 
products pro ducts 
punished pun I shed 
reinforcerein force 
seashellsea's hell 
significantsign if I can't 
sin glow sing low 
soap operaso a pop era 
son glad song lad 
sunglasses sung lasses 
sun glow sung low 
theirs the IRS 
therapistthe rapist 
the real ways there always 
togetherto get her 
toreadorto read or 
you read evil you're a devil 
you're all one you real lone 
warshipwar's hip 
weeknights wee knights 
with intent within tent 

Graybear also sent this poem in two versions. The words are the same, only the punctuation has changed:

That bright red rose - I see its thorn.
I disregard the scent it gives off - thatís nothing!
I hate the scratches I got before;
I fuss about the pain, too. Much I think of the beauty!

That bright red rose I see; its thorn I disregard.
The scent it gives off, thatís nothing I hate.
The scratches I got; before I fuss about the pain too much,
I think of the beauty.

There are also a few spoken "redivider words" that you have to say out loud to appreciate: "Iced ink" - "I stink"; and "How to recognize speech" - "How to wreck a nice beach". I'll save this for a future stumper!

Redivider words is an enticing stumper that I haven't found much discussed in my books or on the Web. I don't even have a good name for these "redivider" fragments and sentences.

I think there's a deep reason why this stumper so hard. Speech came before writing, but there are no "spaces" or silences between most spoken words. That's why foreign languages always sound so fast and run-together, like barbarbar-barbarian talk. We hear different words in speech, but it took a long time to find a way to show it in writing with the combination of spelling and spaces and punctuation that we now take for granted. It's hard to find redivider words because written language is made to be unambiguous, even without spaces.

Here's a brief and over-simplified history of writing. I know it's a more complicated story! Aristotle wrote a fine statement about written and spoken language in On Interpretation (1.1). I'll use it as my sample text:

Spoken words are the symbols of mental experience, and written words are the symbols of spoken words. Just as all men have not the same writing, so all men have not the same speech sounds, but the mental experiences, which these directly symbolize, are the same for all, as also are those things of which our experiences are the images.

The first human writing was surely pictorial, but by 1700 BCE, Syrian Ugarits, Canaanites, and Phoenicians developed the first abstract alphabet to represent spoken language - an alphabet consisting entirely of upper-case consonants with no spaces or punctuation between words. In English it would look something like this:


This is good enough for business receipts so it worked for the Phoenician traders who carried their system around the Mediterranean. It also works as a written reminder if you already know the text, so it was also used by Semitic priests who added a few more consonant characters.

After 1000 BCE, the Greeks modified a few existing Hebrew characters to represent vowels. They also settled on writing from left-to-right instead of right-to-left like Hebrew or Boustrophedon systems that alternate this way and that like a farmer plowing his field. The Hebrew aleph, beth, gemel, dalth become the Greek alpha, beta, gamma, delta. Our English text now looks like this:


By 200 BCE the Greeks added some puctuation marks, mainly a "point" to indicate pauses, so it could function either as a comma or period. Etruscans borrowed the Greek alphabet and it became the basis for the familiar Roman alphabet. Different writing styles developed during the early Christian era including majuscule (capitals), minuscule (lower-case), and uncial (more modern small letters). By the time of the Emperor Charlemagne (742 - 814), our text might look something like this:


The text is still written as scriptura continua, with no spaces between the words, but the capitals and punctuatuion give hints about what it means. Try reading this block of letters silently, and then try reading it out loud. I find it almost natural to read out loud, but much more difficult to read to myself silently without sounding out the syllables. (I admit, I read very slowly, and I often sub-vocalize even when I read silently.)

There's a much-cited passage in St. Augustine's Confessions (Book 6, Chapter 3.3, about 400 A.D.) about reading. Augustine finds it remarkable that Ambrose could read silently:

Now, as he read, his eyes glanced over the pages and his heart searched out the sense, but his voice and tongue were silent. Often when we came to his room... we would see him thus reading to himself. After we had sat for a long time in silence -- for who would dare interrupt one so intent? -- we would then depart, realizing that he was unwilling to be distracted in the little time he could gain for the recruiting of his mind, free from the clamor of other men's business... And even a truer reason for his reading to himself might have been the care for preserving his voice, which was very easily weakened. Whatever his motive was in so doing, it was doubtless, in such a man, a good one.
Augustine also writes about the need for punctuation or pointing to remove ambiguity in his book On Christian Doctrine (Book 3, Chapter 2.2). (Remember that the Greeks added "points" as simple punctuation.) Augustine discusses this example from the beginning of St. John's Gospel in the Vulgate (but not in original Greek or Hebrew).
It seems this phrase also contains a redivider word, and so does the original Greek. Augustine explains:
3. Now look at some examples. The heretical pointing, "In principio erat verbum, et verbum erat apud Deum, et Deus erat," so as to make the next sentence run, "Verbum hoc erat in principio apud Deum ," arises out of unwillingness to confess that the Word was God. But this must be rejected by the rule of faith, which, in reference to the equality of the Trinity, directs us to say: "et Deus erat verbum;" and then to add: "hoc erat in principio apud Deum."

As I follow it, the two versions are:

"In principio erat verbum, et verbum erat apud Deum, et Deus erat. Verbum hoc erat in principio apud Deum."
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and God was. This Word was with God in the beginning."
"In principio erat verbum, et verbum erat apud Deum, et Deus erat verbum. Hoc erat in principio apud Deum."
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was with God in the beginning."

I don't quite understand the theology, but I do appreciate the need for "pointers" to preserve meaning.

The next step in this evolution of writing occured in the late middle ages when Monastic Irish scribes first started adding spaces between words in their scriptural manuscripts. It's fascinating that this innovation that makes silent reading possible happened in Ireland. Latin was a second language for everyone by this time so maybe they needed the extra help of the spaces to parse Latin texts into words. Paul Saenger wrote an entire book on Space Between Words, The Origins of Silent Reading (Stanford, 1997). He comments that "people at the frontiers have always been more open to linguistic innovation and combining things in new ways." By the twelfth century, the practice was universal in Europe. It was a revolutionary change that helped bring literacy and independent thinking to the masses.

"The ancient world did not possess the desire, characteristic of the modern age, to make reading easier and swifter. Those who read... were not interested in the swift intrusive consultation of books... The notion that the greater portion of the population should be autonomous and self-motivated readers was entirely foreign to the elitist literate mentality of the ancient world."
Standards for spelling and punctuation didn't appear until after the printing press. I still have trouble with commas and hyphens and words like "on to" and "onto"!

All these innovations make it possible for all readers to be able to read silently without ambiguity. We take formatted text like this for granted:

Spoken words are the symbols of mental experience,
and written words are the symbols of spoken words.
Just as all men have not the same writing, so all
men have not the same speech sounds, but the mental
experiences, which these directly symbolize, are the
same for all, as also are those things of which our
experiences are the images.

By now it's hard to understand that scriptura continua was once the norm. In fact, reading and writing have only been widespread for a few centuries. I believe it's a relic of this history that it's so hard to find redivider words for my stumper. It's because written language is designed to be unambiguous, even without spaces. I'm sure the evolution of writing is not yet finished! Btw cn u rd ths 2? cu l8tr rotfl ;=)

I love how a simple stumper can expand into the unknown. When you cast your net you don't know what fish you'll catch! Here are some links for your own research:

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