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Anagram

An anagram (Greek ana-, "back", and grafein, "to write") is the result of transposing the letters of a word or words in such a manner as to produce other words that possess meaning. Anagrams are a type of constrained writing.

The construction of anagrams is an amusement of great antiquity, its invention being ascribed without authority to the Jews, probably because the later Hebrew writers, particularly the 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 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" into "Virgo serena, pia, munda et immaculata." Among others are the anagrammatic answer to Pilate's question, "Quid est veritas" -- namely, "Est vir qui adest"; and the transposition of "Horatio Nelson" into "Honor est a Nilo"; 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."

There must be few names that could furnish so many anagrams 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.

The pseudonyms adopted by authors are often transposed forms, more or less exact, of their names; thus "Calvinus" becomes "Alcuinus"; "Francois Rabelais," "Alcofribas Nasier"; "Edward Gorey," "Ogdred Weary"; "Vladimir Nabokov", "Vivian Darkbloom" or "Vivian Bloodmark" or "Dorian Vivalcomb" (imperfect); "Bryan Waller Proctor," "Barry Cornwall, poet"; "Henry Rogers," "R. E. H. Greyson," and so on. It is to be noted that the last two are impure anagrams, an "r" being left out in both cases. "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.

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 jam feustra leguntur--oy," that is, "Cynthiae figuras aemulatur Mater Amorum."

There are also a few "natural" anagrams, English words unconsciously created by switching letters around. The French chaise longue (long chair) became the English "lounge" and it has 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 "dissarayed". 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.

Another species of anagram, called palindrome (Greek palin, "back", and dromos, "running"), is a word or sentence which may be read backwards as well as forwards, letter by letter, while preserving the same meaning; for example, the words "Anna," "noon," "tenet," or the sentence with which Adam is humorously supposed to have greeted Eve: "Madam, I'm Adam!"

A still more complicated variety is the logogram (Greek logos, "word"), a versified puzzle containing several words derived from recombining the letters of the original word, the difficulty lying in the fact that synonyms of the derived words may be used. Thus, if the original word were "curtain," the word "dog" might be used instead of "cur."

Sample anagrams

Also see the board game Anagrams

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