The Art of Word Rearrangement: Meaning of an Anagram With Examples

Anagram example
The English language has a plethora of words that have been taken from across the globe to form one universal language. But if you look beyond the structure and grammar, there are many amazing things you can do with them. One of them is forming an anagram. We explain the meaning of anagram with examples.
English pangram
Inspired by Language
In the TV series "House M.D.", the title character Dr. Gregory House notes in one episode that his name can be anagrammed to form "Huge Ego Sorry", which aptly describes his character.
The English language, as we know it now, is a result of centuries of collecting words from different parts of the world and their languages, and molding them to form something meaningful and cohesive. When we think of the language, the first few things that would come to mind today is stuff like grammar, punctuation, literature, essays, and notes amongst other things. But back in the day, the language was dealt with in a more creative manner, and dissected to form brilliant phrases and references from a single word or a set of words. What are we talking about?

What we just described above is an "anagram". An anagram is essentially a word or a phrase that is formed by rearranging the letters of another word or phrase. Each of the letters of the subject word has to be reproduced in the anagram, without repetition. Essentially, you can only use the letters present in the subject word and rearrange them to form another word or phrase. So, how did this come into being? Read on to find out!
► Anagrams can be traced back to the time of recorded history. It can be seen in the Bible itself during the time of Moses, where "Themuru" or changing was the act of finding mystical and hidden meanings and messages in names. For long, people thought that a person's name had within it a significant message or meaning that defined them or their fate.

► They gained popularity in the Middle Ages, which is said to go back as far as Lycophron, a Greek poet in the 3 BCE.
► Fast forward a couple of centuries later, Latin was the language of the learned and the scholarly, and it was in this language that the process of forming anagrams became popular. One of the most popular anagrams during that time was Pilate's question to Jesus, "Quid est veritas?" (What is truth?), to which the latter answered, "Est vir qui adest" (It is the man who is here). Another one was 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" (Serene virgin, pious, clean and spotless).

► During that period and for a long time afterwards, anagrams were not the same as we know of today. They were imperfect and as in the Latin language, certain letters were substituted for the other. For example V=U, W=VV, SS=Z, and vice versa, amongst others.

► Over time, the structure of anagrams was perfected to only words or phrases that were rearranged to form other words/phrases, provided that they used the exact number of letters as in the original, without repetition or substitution of any letter. Punctuations and capitalizations could be included to provide grammatical structure.
► The aim of an anagrammatist (person who makes anagrams) was to rearrange the letters in such a way that the resulting word or phrase was meaningful or in relation to the original word.
There are several types of anagrams that can be formed, as listed below:
Word to Word Anagrams
These are the types of anagrams where one word is anagrammed to form another word. Here are some short anagram examples:
  • listen → silent
  • admirer → married
  • create → trace
  • rat → tar
  • artist → traits
  • auctioned → cautioned
  • Elvis → lives
  • caller → recall
  • medical → claimed
  • drapes → spread
There are many more examples that can be made with words ranging from just 3 letters to even 15-lettered words.
Word to Phrase Anagrams
These are the types of anagrams where one word is taken to form a phrase. Some examples are:
  • dormitory → dirty room
  • funeral → real fun
  • schoolmaster → the classroom
  • mother-in-law → woman Hitler
  • punishment → nine thumps
  • waitress → "A stew, Sir?"
  • Christianity → I cry that sin
  • astronomer → moon starer
  • evangelist → evil's agent
  • earnestness → A stern sense
Phrase to Word Anagrams
As you might have caught on, these anagrams are formed by merging phrases to form a word. Some examples are:
  • life's aim → families
  • so, let's pinch! → clothespins
  • voices rant on → conversation
  • stamp store → postmaster
  • nice to imports → protectionism
  • ill fed → filled
  • more tiny → enormity
  • a tonic → action
  • main race → American
  • is inane → asinine
Phrase to Phrase Anagrams
Finally, we have phrases that can form other phrasal anagrams. Some examples are:
  • eleven plus two → twelve plus one
  • vacation time → I am not active
  • the eyes → they see
  • a decimal point → I'm a dot in place
  • slot machines → cash lost in 'em
  • payment received → every cent paid me
  • the public art galleries → large picture halls, I bet
  • election results → lies - let's recount!
  • Raiders of the Lost Ark → Ford, the real star, is OK
  • a rolling stone gathers no moss → stroller, go on, amasses nothing
There are tons of examples that you will find under each category, but we have just listed the ones we thought were fun! Now let us look at the different applications of anagrams across various fields.
► Galileo used the anagram "smaismrmilmepoetaleumibunenugttauiras" for "Altissimum planetam tergeminum observavi" ("I have observed the most distant planet to have a triple form") when he discovered what he thought to be two moons orbiting Saturn, which was later disproved. But he did send another coded anagram, which did prove to be true! This was "Cynthiae figuras aemulatur Mater Amorum" which translated to "The Mother of Loves [Venus] imitates the figures of Cynthia [the Moon]." By this he meant that Venus cycles through phases just like the moon. This was an important discovery, because back then, it was thought that all the planetary bodies revolved around the Earth, but Galileo's finding proved that they all revolved around the Sun.

► Another anagram code was made by Robert Hooke in the 1670s, while he was studying the physics of springs. He sent out a coded anagram which went like this - "ceiiinosssttuv" which translated to "Ut tensio sic vis." This meant "As the extension, so the force", which came to be known as the Hooke's Law.

The reason they coded their findings was simple. Back then, it could take years to validate a finding. And during that process, scientists wanted to do two things: protect their finding so that no one else could claim the rights on the discovery, and safeguard it so that in the event that it was disproved, it was not out in the public as an embarrassment.
Authors caught on fast with the trend of anagramming, which is seen in both the pseudonyms they took on as well as certain hidden messages in their writing, which came in the form of anagrams. Let's look at some examples:

► Shakespeare's Hamlet is an anagram for the name of Danish Prince Amleth.

► Vladimir Nabokov's novel Lolita contained a character named Vivian Darkbloom, which is an anagram of his name.

► To reveal the two identities of her character in the Harry Potter Series, J.K Rowling used the anagram "I am Lord Voldemort" for Tom Marvolo Riddle.

► In the novel 'The Da Vinci Code', the curator of the museum "Jacques Saunière" wrote the following inscription with his blood: "O, Draconian devil! Oh, lame saint! So dark the con of Man". This translated into the following: O, Draconian devil = Leonardo da Vinci; Oh, lame saint = The Mona Lisa; So dark the con of Man = Madonna of the Rocks.

► In the same novel, there was another anagram used. The character Leigh Teabing the Holy Grail expert is an anagram of the last letters of two real life authors of the book "The Holy Blood and The Holy Grail" - Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh. This book served as the inspiration for The Da Vinci Code.

► In the book Rebel Angels, the protagonist and antagonist name themselves using anagrams of their original names. They are Claire McCleethy = They Call Me Circe and Hester Asa Moore = Sarah Rees-Toome.

► The author of "Gulliver's Travels" Jonathan Swift added subtle anagrams in his novel. These were for the two kingdoms that Gulliver traveled to- namely "Tribinia" and "Langden" which if rearranged forms "Britain" and "England".
Although anagrams lost popularity for a while, they soon became all the rage when they appeared in music, movies, television, art, magazines, and in the names of celebrities. We look at such anagram examples:
► The movie October Sky is an anagram for Rocket Boys, the book from which it was inspired.
► In the 1991 movie, The Silence of The Lambs, the villain, Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins), was fond of anagrams. He hid a murdered victim's severed head in a rented storage garage under the name "Miss Hester Mofet", which FBI Agent Starling (Jodie Foster) figured out was an anagram for "miss the rest of me". Later, when officials demand he give up the name of a serial killer, he lies and tells them it's "Louis Friend". Once again, Agent Starling concludes that it's an anagram for "Iron Sulfide" (fool's gold).
► In "The Shining", a horror movie based on Stephen King's novel of the same name, Danny, holding a knife, shouts REDRUM and writes it with a lipstick on a bathroom mirror. His mother sees in the reflection that it's MURDER spelled backwards.
► In the movie "The Matrix", the station between real world and matrix is called Mobil, similar to "Limbo", a region on the border of hell or heaven.

► In the TV show "The Simpsons", the character "Bart" is an anagram for "Brat", aptly describing him.

► The BBC science fiction series "Torchwood" is an anagram for "Doctor Who" and is also a spin-off of the series.
► In the song "L.A. Woman" by the Doors, lead singer Jim Morrison adds an anagram of his name in the song which is "Mr. Mojo Risin'".

► The album title "I, Megaphone" is an anagram for the artist's name Imogen Heap.

► Musician William Adams is known by his stage name
► Andre Breton, the founder of surrealism, came up with the anagram "Avida Dollars" to refer to Salvador Dali. Avida Dollars roughly translates to 'eager for dollars' in Spanish.

► The New Wave band "Missing Persons'" best-selling album was called "Spring Session M."

► The title of the fifth album by American rock band "Interpol", "El Pintor", is an anagram of the band's name and also Spanish for "the painter".
Note that the anagrams of names or things that present a fact or observation about the original word/phrase is known as a "commentary anagram". Here are some examples:
  • Al Gore → gaoler
  • George Bush → He bugs Gore
  • Tom Cruise → So I'm cuter
  • Ed Asner → endears
  • Liam Brady → admirably
  • Tim Russ → truisms
  • Donna Rice → ordinance
  • Roger Daltrey → retrogradely
  • Osama Bin Laden → A bad man (no lies)
  • Milosevic → Cos I'm evil
  • Adolf Hitler → Do real filth, Heil, old fart.
  • Monica Lewinsky → nice silky woman
  • Margaret Thatcher → that great charmer
  • Emperor Octavian → Captain over Rome
  • Madonna Louise Ciccone → One cool dance musician
  • Clint Eastwood → old west action
  • The actress Mae West → Cast me, sweethearts
  • William Shakespeare → I am a weakish speller OR I'll make a wise phrase
  • Madam Curie → Me, Radium race
  • Marilyn Manson → "Manly man? No Sir!"
  • Florence Nightingale → Flit on, cheering angel
  • Aristotle → tries a lot
  • Sean Connery → on any screen
  • The Beatles → The able set
Anagrams can be a lot of fun. They can be used for both recreation and some serious coding and hidden messages. Note that an anagram that presents an opposite meaning to the original word is known as an 'antigram'. These days, there is a software online known as an "anagrammer", which can both solve anagrams as well as generate anagrams for the words or phrases that you input.
Now that you know what an anagram is, you're on your way to becoming a master anagrammatist!