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In the spirit of the What is a Word™/Phrase™ series started by JLee, a special brand of Phrase™ and Word™ puzzles.


If a word conforms to a special rule, I call it a Shifty Word™.
Use the examples below to find the rule.

Shifty Words™ Not Shifty Words™
BIKINI SWIMWEAR
GABELLE EXCISE
ACQUOPHONIA¹ AUSCULTATION
ACOUOPHONIA AEROPHOBIA
FOXIEST SEXIEST
DULLEST BRIGHTEST
GAZELLE ANTELOPE
GENETIC LEARNED
POLLSTER VOTER
REDFISH HERRING
LEOTARD² LEGGINGS
¹ This may not be a real word, but I did find it in various word lists. All other words are in UKACD18.
² ...

And, if you want to analyze, here is a CSV version:

Shifty Words™,Not Shifty Words™
BIKINI,SWIMWEAR
GABELLE,EXCISE
ACQUOPHONIA,AUSCULTATION
ACOUOPHONIA,AEROPHOBIA
FOXIEST,SEXIEST
DULLEST,BRIGHTEST
GAZELLE,ANTELOPE
GENETIC,LEARNED
POLLSTER,VOTER
REDFISH,HERRING
LEOTARD,LEGGINGS

This puzzle satisfies the series' inbuilt rule that each word can be tested for whether it is a Shifty Word™ without relying on the other words.
These are not the only examples of Shifty Words™; many more exist.

What is the special rule these words conform to?
This particular list of Shifty Words™ is, of course, made up of words being shifty—What are these Shifty Words™ hiding?

_____
Hint

Here are a few extra words that are Shifty Words™:
BANDAGE COMPLEXION CURTAINS GRISLY OUTRANKED
And a few extra words that are Not Shifty Words™:
BINDING CHEERED CURTAIN QUITE OUTRANGED

These may help make the rule a little clearer. (Or not.)

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  • $\begingroup$ Your chosen adjective is really easy to misread :-) $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 10, 2023 at 18:54
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Randal'Thor Are you saying it was a shifty choice? $\endgroup$
    – Rubio
    Commented Apr 10, 2023 at 18:56

1 Answer 1

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Each Shifty Word can be changed to another word by shifting a letter two positions forward or back in the alphabet, wrapping around.

BIKINi -> BIKINg
GAbELLE -> GAzELLE 
ACqUOPHONIA -> ACoUOPHONIA
ACoUOPHONIA -> ACqUOPHONIA
FOxIEST -> FOzIEST
dULLEST -> fULLEST
GAzELLE -> GAbELLE
GENEtIC -> GENErIC
POLLsTER -> POLLuTER
REDfISH -> REDdISH
LEOtARD -> LEOpARD

If we take the letter that was jumped over (for example, changing I to G jumps over H), we can read off a message: HAPPY EASTER!

Edit: It looks like Shifty Words™ also require that there are no other one-letter changes that form a different word. For example, CURTAIN can become CURTAIL, but is not shifty because it can also have one letter changed to CERTAIN even though that's not a two-position shift.

LEOTARD instead shifts four positions to LEOpARD, of which we extract R as the midpoint, as hinted by its footnote.

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  • $\begingroup$ Almost there now. You've put the cart before the horse. $\endgroup$
    – Rubio
    Commented Apr 10, 2023 at 18:39
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ rot13(YRBGNEQ (cyhf zbfg bs gur nqqrq Fuvsgl Jbeqf™) fubjf n gjb cbfvgvba fuvsg vf abg erdhverq. NREBCUBOVN (cyhf PURRERQ, PHEGNVA, naq DHVGR) fubjf n gjb cbfvgvba fuvsg vf abg fhssvpvrag. V guvax lbh'ir svtherq bhg jung'f tbvat ba, whfg arrq gb ersbezhyngr lbhe npghny ehyr. (Gur fcrpvsvp frnfbanyyl eryrinag jbeq yvfg va gur chmmyr vf n checbfrshyyl pubfra frg bs Fuvsgl Jbeqf™, ohg gurfr bs pbhefr zhfg or Fuvsgl Jbeqf™ svefg, naq gura "pbvapvqragnyyl" unccra gb unir gur pbairavragyl fvmrq fuvsg gung tvirf na rnfl gb fcbg zrffntr. Ohg gurl nyy, rira YRBGNEQ, fgvyy svg bar ehyr. Jung vf vg?)) $\endgroup$
    – Rubio
    Commented Apr 11, 2023 at 19:52

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