[Textual criticism of translations/interpretations of a Democritus passage in Aristotle. West argues that the translation of a passage generally translated as the generic observation
Tragedy and comedy come out of the same letters.
or the more abstract observation
Tragedy and Comedy come out of the same letters.
should be read as Democritus engaged in word play:
For ‘Tragedy’ [τραγωδία] and ‘Comedy’ [τρυγωδία] come to be out of the same letters.
Because the surrounding passage in Aristotle strongly implies that Democritus is defending the position that small changes (in atoms) can yield large changes (in observed appearance or behavior or property), in the same way that a word can alter its meaning completely based on a single letter (emphasis added):
A similar criticism applies to all our predecessors with the single exception of Democritus. Not one of them penetrated below the surface or made a thorough examination of a single one of the problems. Democritus, however, does seem not only to have thought carefully about all the problems, but also to be distinguished from the outset by his method. For, as we are saying, none of the other philosophers made any definite statement about growth, except such as any amateur might have made. They said that things grow ‘by the accession of like to like’, but they did not proceed to explain the manner of this accession. Nor did they give any account of ‘combination’: and they neglected almost every single one of the remaining problems, offering no explanation, eg. of ‘action’ or ‘passion’ how in physical actions one thing acts and the other undergoes action. Democritus and Leucippus, however, postulate the ‘figures’, and make ‘alteration’ and coming-to-be result from them. They explain coming-to-be and passing-away by their ‘dissociation’ and ‘association’, but ‘alteration’ by their ‘grouping’ and ‘Position’. And since they thought that the ‘truth lay in the appearance, and the appearances are conflicting and infinitely many, they made the ’figures’ infinite in number. Hence—owing to the changes of the compound—the same thing seems different and conflicting to different people: it is ‘transposed’ by a small additional ingredient, and appears utterly other by the ‘transposition’ of a single constituent. [For Tragedy and Comedy are both composed of the same letters.]
West states that if Democritus had not intended this wordplay, he would have used other terms for ‘tragedy’ and ‘comedy’. Hence not using his alternative reading and translation renders the passage ‘unintelligble’.]