I. What is an Anagram?
In J.K.Rowling’s Harry Potter series, it is revealed that “Tom Marvolo Riddle” is, in fact, the dreaded Lord Voldemort. The revelation comes in the form of an anagram: the letters of “Tom Marvolo Riddle” rearranged become “I am Lord Voldemort.” An anagram is a type of word play in which the letters of a word or phrase are rearranged to create new words and phrases.
II. Examples of Anagram
Anagrams make for interesting code names, riddles, and word games. Here are a few simple examples:
A gentleman –> Elegant man
This anagram is fun and unique because the meaning stays the same: a gentleman is, in fact, an elegant man!
The eyes –> They see
This anagram is interesting in that one phrase explains the other.
Election results –> Lies—let’s recount
This anagram, like some others, is humorous, as it hints that election results are often lies.
III. The Importance of Anagrams
Anagrams have been used as far back as the third century BCE for mysterious, meaningful, and secret names. To this day, they are used in both everyday speech and literature. Anagrams can be used as a simple game for fun or brain-exercise. They are also often used by authors in order to create pseudonyms (alternative names) for themselves or their characters. By giving a character a name which is an anagram of a meaningful phrase, authors can both hide and communicate something about a character, which can only be found by careful readers.
IV. Examples of Anagrams in Literature
Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code uses a variety of anagrams as clues left by a murdered museum curator. Here are a few:
- O, Draconian devil! for Leonardo da Vinci
- Oh, lame saint for The Mona Lisa
- So dark the con of man for Madonna of the Rocks
Another common source of anagrams in literature is the author’s name:
- Vladimir Nabokov injects himself into his novel Lolita with the character of Vivian Darkbloom, an anagram of his own name.
- Edward Gorey published under many anagrammatic pen names including Ogdred Weary, Dogear Wryde, and Ms. Regera Dowdy.
Anagrams can create mystery and depth in words. Or they can allow writers to hide their identities with anagrammatic pseudonyms.
V. Examples of Anagrams in Pop Culture
Anagrams may be found in everyday conversation and pop culture as well. Here are a few examples:
A famous example from pop culture is a phrase in the song “L.A. Woman” by the rock group the Doors; the phrase is “Mr. Mojo Risin’” which is an anagram for the name of the band’s singer / songwriter, Jim Morrison.
Consider The Simpson’s character Bart. Bart is an anagram for “brat”:
Anagrams can express character traits and secrets, or just be a way for a writer to inject a little puzzle into their work for the fun of clever listeners and readers to figure out.
VI. Related Terms
There are many forms of word-play, including several others, like anagrams, based on spelling. Here are a few literary devices similar to anagrams:
Like anagrams, palindromes require that we read words and phrases differently—that is, backwards! Palindromes are simply words or phrases that say the same thing whether you read them forwards or backwards. Here are a few examples:
- Taco cat
- Able was I ere I saw Elba
- Step on no pets
Just like anagrams, palindromes can be one word or many. A lot of people feel they are fun to know, and certainly, it is a good intellectual challenge to create new ones!
Like anagrams, acronyms take a set of words and create a new word or phrase out of them. More specifically, acronyms are abbreviations using the first letter of each word in a phrase to spell out a new word or phrase that can be pronounced. The result does not need to be a known word; it can be an already known word, or a new word:
- Self-contained underwater breathing apparatus –> Scuba
- Light Emission by Stimulated Emission of Radiation –> Laser
- Students, Parents, and Educators Across Knoxville –> SPEAK
Note that in an acronym, you usually leave out the “function words” such as and, by, and of—but you can use them if you need to in order to spell a pronounceable word.
VII. In Closing
Anagrams have a wide variety of uses, from fun to serious. They challenge us to think beyond the obvious, to play with words creatively, and to find what is hidden underneath.