All About Anagrams

Arguably one of the simplest, but also one of the most engaging word puzzles, an anagram is where the letters in a word, phrase or sentence can be rearranged to give another word, phrase or sentence. An example of a simple anagram might be the word "dap", whose letters can be rearranged to form the word "pad". Similarly, the letters in the word "reflows" can be reordered to give the word "flowers". An anagram of the phrase "older and wiser" is "I learned words". Although the concept of anagrams is a straight-forward one, many anagrams are anything but! Read on to discover more about the fascinating world of anagrams - one of the nation's favourite forms of word conundrum.

What is an example of an anagram?

Detailed below are a variety of different anagram examples, based on anything from single, very short words through to entire phrases.

Three-letter anagram words include: "low", which can be rearranged into "owl"; "pan", which can be arranged into "nap"; and "eat", which can be aptly rearranged into "tea".

Examples of four-letter anagrams are: "dare", the letters of which can be used to spell "read"; "paws" the letters of which spell "wasp"; and "hear" that can become "here".

As the number of letters involved becomes greater, there is more potential to form phrases rather than single words. "Schoolmaster", for example, forms the anagram of "the classroom"; "astronomer" becomes "moon starer". One of the entertaining characteristics of anagrams is the way in which they relate to the original word. "A decimal point", for example, can be rearranged to form "I'm a dot in place". Similarly, the letters in "eleven plus two" can be rewritten to say "twelve plus one".

There is no upper limit to the number of letters which can be used in an anagram, although generally, anagrams with larger numbers of letters tend to be rearrangements of names and places rather than ordinary sentences.

What is an anagram of the word anagram?

The letters in the word "anagram" can be reordered to form the phrase "nag a ram". The plural of anagram (anagrams) can be rearranged into a Latin phrase: ars magna (the great art). The word anagram is taken from the Greek: anagrammatismos; ana - "up", "again", "back", "now"; -gram - letter.

When composing anagrams, it's helpful to remember that the starting word in the puzzle is known as the subject. Words or phrases which are formed subsequently, by ordering the letters in a different form, are the anagrams. For anagrammatists (people who create anagrams), the skill lies not only in finding fresh anagrams for the subject, but also in devising anagrams which relate to the subject in some way. In the schoolmaster/the classroom anagram given earlier, for example, there is a clear scholastic link between the subject and resultant anagram. In a similar manner, "asteroid threats" as a subject can be made into the following anagram: "disaster to earth" - clearly a phrase with a related theme to the subject.

What is the purpose of an anagram?

Anagrams aren't just a fantastic source of entertainment, they can also serve a number of other purposes. One of the most intriguing uses for anagrams is as a cryptic clue to solve a mystery of some sort! In the Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown, "O draconian devil, Oh lame saint", scrawled next to a dying man in Paris's Louvre art museum, turns out to be an anagram of "Leonardo da Vinci, The Mona Lisa".

Historically, anagrams were used to record discoveries by pioneers in a variety of fields. By effectively coding their finds, inventors, astronomers, scientists and similar hoped to prevent rivals from working out what their discoveries were and potentially stealing their information! This is exactly what Robert Hooke did back in the 1600s, when he discovered what is now known as Hook's Law (the strain in a solid is proportional to the applied stress within the elastic limit of that solid). Until he was ready to share his discovery, Hook referred to his finding as "ceiiinosssttuv", an anagram of "ut tensio, sic vis" (as the extension, so the force).

The use of anagrams as pseudonyms continues into the present time. There are several reasons why a pseudonym may be used: in some cases an original name can't be used due to legal reasons; in other cases, artists such as musicians or writers may use a pseudonym when showcasing their art, particularly when they have created work in a different style or genre to their usual form. Pseudonyms can also add to the atmosphere of the work: Jim Morrison's anagram "Mr Mojo risin" was a great phrase to include as a lyric in the Doors' "LA Woman" track, for example.

Finally, anagrams are created for amusement, to make a witty point (for example an anagram of "drum solo" is "so loud, Mr") or to provide a challenging brainteaser to keep the grey matter active!

How does an anagram work?

As stated earlier, the aim of creating anagrams is to rearrange the letters in the subject word or phrase to form a different word or phrase, ideally one which relates in some way to the subject. Generally, it is expected that an anagram uses all the letters found in the original word. So, for example, although the word "row" can be made from the letters which constitute the word "flower", it's not a true anagram as there are three letters of the subject word which aren't utilised.

Interestingly, some anagrams are created so that they are opposite in meaning (the antonym) of the original word. These may be direct antonyms, or simply words which have a contradictory relationship with the subject. An anagram of "Satan", for example, is "Santa"! Whilst not a direct opposite, the contrast between the devil and jovial Father Christmas is pretty clear cut. Similarly, an anagram of "funeral" is "real fun"; "united" can be rearranged to form "untied". Some people refer to these anagrams as "antigrams".

Do anagrams have to be real words?

Yes and no! Anagrams do need to make sense, but may include names or places as well as "proper words". Nonsense words are not normally considered "good form" in an anagram, as one of the main characteristics of an anagram is its coherent meaning. The anagram also needs to be considered within the context of its relation to the subject. For example, an anagram of "German" is "Mr Gena". Without further context, this is a weak anagram, as "gena", although a legitimate word (it's a part of a bird's anatomy), doesn't make sense when pre-fixed by "Mr" and doesn't relate in any meaningful way to the subject (German). However, if Mr Gena was actually a German teacher, within his educational establishment or to people who know him (ie where there is meaningful context), this becomes a reasonable example of the genre. Unless told differently, it's usually best to assume that anagrams will be proper words or coherent phrases.

Which word has the most anagrams?

There are several English words which vie for the title of "most anagrams". Although there may be words that have a larger number of anagrams in certain contexts, generally the word which is considered to have most anagrams is "spear" (the anagrams of spear are: apers; apres; asper; pares; parse; pears; presa; rapes; reaps; spare; spear). In second place is "least", which has ten anagrams (least; setal; slate; stale; steal; stela; taels; tales; teals; tesla). It is difficult to predict which words are going to be most "anagramable" as the factors contributing to anagrams are quite complex.

English is a particularly good language to use for anagrams. This is because the language has been subject to a number of different linguistic influences over the years, resulting in a diverse and extensive vocabulary. This means there are a large number of words in the language, as well as a number of different diphthongs and consonant clusters which can be used to broaden the range of words available.

What are some funny anagrams?

Anagrams are a fantastic opportunity not only to display linguistic skill, but also to make people chuckle. "Slot machine", for example, can be reordered to form "cash lost in 'em!". "Intensive care" becomes "I can't even rise"; evangelist can be rearranged to become "evil's agent" (!) and "timetable" becomes "bet I'm late". In addition to anagrams which have an evergreen humourous note, there are also anagrams which have short-term humorous value, usually when they relate to topical issues of the day.

Anagrams have been around for thousands of years - intriguing, engaging and a test of skill in the creation. Although today anagrams are usually only found in puzzles or as challenges, over the years they have played a key role in a number of different arenas. Whether you're keen to solve anagrams, or fancy having a go at trying to create one, you'll be following an ancient wordsmith tradition! Whether you're new to anagrams or an experienced anagram solver and writer, they offer an exciting and intriguing word puzzle opportunity which never goes stale.