I heard a song this morning that had "We put the us in trust" in its lyrics. It reminded me of the maxim "There is no I in team." I've heard other, gloomier examples like "harm in harmony" and "utility in futility." Is there a hypernym for "insight based on the presence (or absence) of substrings in another string"?

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    I am on a quest to answer this question. – Ste Dec 31 '13 at 17:10
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    "You can't have slaughter without laughter!" – tobyink Dec 31 '13 at 17:17
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    @FumbleFingers: I prefer the football supporters' "There's only one f in Fulham". – TimLymington Dec 31 '13 at 17:36
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    There's no I in team – but there's a ME! – Mike Dec 31 '13 at 19:40
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    A closely-related feature of cryptic crosswords is usually called a hidden (sometimes embedded) answer. For example, the clue for 25ac in yesterday's Guardian was Never, ever, ever restricting worship (answer revere = 'worship', the letters of which occur consecutively in the "instruction" part of the clue). – FumbleFingers Jan 1 '14 at 14:11

When a word is within a word, it is called a kangaroo word. Also known as: marsupial, or swallow word

Wikipedia says:

A kangaroo word is a word that contains letters of another word, in order, with the same meaning. For example: the word masculine contains the word male, which is a synonym of the first word; similarly, the word observe contains its synonym see.
The etymology of the phrase kangaroo word is from the fact that kangaroos carry their young (known as joeys) in a body pouch. Likewise, kangaroo words carry their joey words within themselves. Twin kangaroos are kangaroo words containing two joey words (for example: container features both tin and can). In contrast, an anti-kangaroo word is a word that contains its antonym; for example: covert carries overt, animosity carries amity

In Richard Lederer's, The Word Circus: A Letter-Perfect Book. 1997:

"Among the kangaroo words that yield the most joviality and joy are those that conceal multiple joeys. Let's now perambulate, ramble, and amble through an exhibit of this species. Open up a container and you get a can and a tin. When you have feasted, you ate and have fed. When you deteriorate, you rot and die. A routine is both rote and a rut. Brooding inside loneliness are both loss and oneness.

"A chariot is a car and a cart. A charitable foundation is both a fund and a font. Within the boundaries of a municipality reside city and unity, while a community includes county and city."

Thus harm in harmony could be said to be an anti-joey word and futility an anti-kangaroo word because it carries the word utility.


I also agree that there probably is no word to describe this.

How about calling it a "substring saying"?

Ex: You know that substring saying that goes, "There's no 'I' in team."? Well, have you heard, there is a me in team?

  • +1: This works for many cases. There is one case that's given me trouble. The saying "No x in Nixon" is a palindrome that comments on a substring. But it says its substring x is not part of Nixon, when it is. This can be defended until it is insightful (suppose Nixon would not say 'no' to some party; he did not 'x out' the options they provided) but standing alone it is contradictory and not insightful (by my narrow definition of it). I think I need a stronger word than saying, something that implies there can be no contradiction. – user39720 Jan 6 '14 at 15:49
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    Good point. I like it! Perhaps adding a "true|false" prefix would make sense. Ex: a "true substring saying" is "There's no 'I' in team." – brandonjsmith Jan 7 '14 at 11:15
  • I like it. I was hoping for a pre-established, in-the-dictionary term but "true substring saying" meets all my other criteria. I've posted a bounty. If no other answers, this one's yours. Thanks! – user39720 Jan 8 '14 at 13:03

I would like to propose another option for the construction of the phrase. Kangaroo words certainly describe the unpacking portion of the construct, but I'd still hope we could come up with something to encompass the algorithmic usage described in the original question. Though I think substring saying is on the right path, I think besides my programmer and math buddies, it might not get much love.

Even after trying to stretch the definition of synecdoche, clitics, and tmesis (and then checking back in here and seeing the beauty of kangaroo word), I still wanted to stretch the inner-wordplay to an encompassing phrase. After trying out some other math terms with more generic application, I wrote down "Interset Reflection". Though interset has some maths usage, it also has a generic definition of "set among", and reflection speaks to the action needed to see the phrase meaning (you must look back and see that T-E-A-M does NOT have an I in it...) and the fact that thinking on the construction reveals the creative semanticism.

Thank you Dan for posting this and giving us all the chance to flex our linguistic muscles! Also, thanks to all the contributors for furthering this exercise!

  • Interset Reflection is good, but I really like that you brought tmesis to my attention. Thanks, Mike! – user39720 Jan 15 '14 at 16:31

First, the insight you refer to is contrived. It is not a deliberate formation of words with the intent of providing multiple viewpoints and food for thought. It is more a creative exercise and probably has its origins in the advertising world. Therefore, it is unlikely that there is a hypernym to describe the phrases in your query. We may just have to coin a word or phrase to refer to such pithy capsules of wisdom. How about " creative semanticism".

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    I think it's very likely you're right that there's no word to describe what I'm looking for. But what I'm looking for must describe puns like these only. These do fall under "creative semanticism" but I think Swifties, for example, do also. – user39720 Jan 4 '14 at 16:06

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