An anagram (Greek ana- = "back" or "again", and graphein = "to write") is the result of permuting the letters of a word or words in such a manner as to produce other words that possess linguistic meaning. The meaning of the new word so created is seen in the context of or in contrast to that of the old word so as to create humorous or interesting associations between the two. Anagrams are a type of word play.



This section contains text that needs translation into English.
The construction of anagrams is an amusement of great antiquity. Jews are often credited with the invention of anagrams, probably because later Hebrew writers, particularly Kabbalists, were fond of it, asserting that "secret mysteries are woven in the numbers of letters". Anagrams were known to the Greeks and also to the Romans, although the known Latin examples of words of more than one syllable are nearly all imperfect.

They were popular throughout Europe during the Middle Ages and later, particularly in France, where a certain Thomas Billon was appointed "anagrammatist to the king" by Louis XIII. W. Camden (Remains, 7th ed., 1674) defines "Anagrammatisme" as "a dissolution of a name truly written into his letters, as his elements, and a new connection of it by artificial transposition, without addition, subtraction or change of any letter, into different words, making some perfect sense applyable (i.e., applicable) to the person named." Dryden disdainfully called the pastime the "torturing of one poor word ten thousand ways" but many men and women of note have found amusement in it.

A well-known anagram is the change of "Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum" (Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord [is] with you) into "Virgo serena, pia, munda et immaculata" (Bright virgin, pious, clean and spotless). Among others are the anagrammatic answer to Pilate's question, "Quid est veritas?" (What is truth?), namely, "Est vir qui adest" (It is the man who is here); and the transposition of "Horatio Nelson" into "Honor est a Nilo" (Latin = Honor is from the Nile); and of "Florence Nightingale" into "Flit on, cheering angel". James I's courtiers discovered in "James Stuart" "a just master", and converted "Charles James Stuart" into "Claimes Arthur's seat". "Eleanor Audeley", wife of Sir John Davies, is said to have been brought before the High Commission in 1634 for extravagances, stimulated by the discovery that her name could be transposed to "Reveale, O Daniel", and to have been laughed out of court by another anagram submitted by the dean of the Arches, "Dame Eleanor Davies", "Never soe mad a ladie".


The pseudonyms adopted by authors are often transposed forms, more or less exact, of their names; thus "Calvinus" becomes "Alcuinus" (V = U); "Francois Rabelais", "Alcofribas Nasier"; "Edward Gorey", "Ogdred Weary"; "Vladimir Nabokov", "Vivian Darkbloom", "Vivian Bloodmark" or "Dorian Vivalcomb", "Bryan Waller Proctor", "Barry Cornwall, poet"; "Henry Rogers", "R. E. H. Greyson"; "(Sanche) de Gramont", "Ted Morgan", and so on. It is to be noted that several of these are "imperfect anagrams", letters having been left out in some cases for the sake of easy pronunciation.

"Telliamed", a simple reversal, is the title of a well known work by "De Maillet". One of the most remarkable pseudonyms of this class is the name "Voltaire", which the celebrated philosopher assumed instead of his family name, François Marie Arouet, and which is now generally allowed to be an anagram of "Arouet, l[e] j[eune]", that is, "Arouet the younger". Anagramming may also be used to good effect in farce or parody. A writer might take an unpleasant person he knows, base a character in a book on him, and then transpose the letters in the source's name. For example, controversial Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon might be satirized as, say, local greengrocer "Leon A. Shirra"—a rather inventive way to avoid a libel lawsuit.


Perhaps the only practical use to which anagrams have been turned is to be found in the transpositions in which some of the astronomers of the 17th century embodied their discoveries with the design apparently of avoiding the risk that, while they were engaged in further verification, the credit of what they had found out might be claimed by others. Thus Galileo announced his discovery that Venus had phases like the Moon in the form "Haec immatura a me iam frustra leguntur—oy" (Latin: This immature female has already been read in vain by me—oy (with a number agreement error)), that is, "Cynthiae figuras aemulatur Mater Amorum" (Latin: The Mother of Loves [= Venus] imitates the figures of Cynthia [= the moon]). Similarly, when Robert Hooke discovered Hooke's law in 1660, he first published it in anagram form. One might think of this as a primitive example of a zero-knowledge proof.

There are also a few "natural" anagrams, English words unconsciously created by switching letters around. The French chaise longue ("long chair") became the English "chaise lounge" by metathesis (transposition of letters and/or sounds). This is an example of folk etymology. It has also been speculated that the English "curd" comes from the Latin crudus ("raw").


Cryptic crossword puzzles frequently use anagrammatic clues, usually indicating that they are anagrams by the inclusion of a word like "confused" or "in disarray". An example would be Businessman bursts into tears (9 letters); the solution, Stationer is an anagram of into tears, the letters of which have burst out of their original arrangement to form the name of a type of businessman.

What is the most anagrammable name on record? There must be few names as deliciously workable as that of "Augustus de Morgan" who tells that a friend had constructed about 800 on his name (specimens of which are given in his Budget of Paradoxes, p. 82)!

See also

Sample anagrams

Each of the anagrams below is, depending on one's point of view, appropriate or contrary in meaning to that of the word or phrase of which it is an anagram.


  • Anagrams = Ars Magna (latin for "Great Art")
  • Wikipedia = A Pied Kiwi
  • The meaning of life = The fine game of nil. (discovered by William Tunstall-Pedoe)
  • Giovanni Pergolesi = I love opera singing. (discovered by Meyran Kraus)
  • Desperation = A rope ends it.
  • Alec Guinness = Genuine class.
  • Semolina = Is no meal.
  • The public art galleries = Large picture halls, I bet.
  • Contradiction = Accord not in it.
  • The Charge of the Light Brigade = Great fight, each hero blighted.
  • Dormitory = Dirty room.
  • The Morse code = Here come dots.
  • Animosity = is no amity.
  • Snooze alarms = Alas! No more Z's
  • A decimal point = I'm a dot in place
  • The earthquakes = That queer shake
  • Eleven plus two = Twelve plus one
  • Astronomers = Moon starers
  • It's ridiculous = It is ludicrous
  • Softheartedness = Often sheds tears
  • The eyes = they see
  • Homestar Runner = Humor earns rent
  • Princess Diana = End is a car spin.
  • "That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind!" —Neil Armstrong = "A thin man ran; makes large stride, left planet, pins flag on moon! On to Mars!" (discovered by Steve Krakowski)
  • Year Two Thousand = A year to shut down.
  • "To be or not to be: that is the question, whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune." = "In one of the Bard's best-thought-of tragedies: our insistent hero, Hamlet, queries on two fronts about how life turns rotten." (discoverd by Cory Calhoun)

External links

de:Anagramm eo:Anagramo es:Anagrama fr:Anagramme ia:Anagramma it:Anagramma he:אנגרמה lb:Anagramm hu:Anagramma nl:Anagram ja:アナグラム no:Anagram pl:Anagram sv:Anagram


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