What is an Anagram?

An anagram is a word or phrase which is created by rearranging the existing letters into another word/phrase. It is important to understand that the word or phrase created from an anagram must have legitimate meaning, as opposed to merely being gibberish.

For example, the word ‘brainy’ could be rearranged to become the word ‘binary’. Or the word ‘anagram’ itself could be rearranged to create the phrase ‘nag a ram’. These are two simple examples of what an anagram actually is. The original word or phrase used to create the rearrangement is known as the anagram subject. Any word or phrase produced from this subject is known as an anagram.

Anagrams are often used as crossword clues. While anagrams do not have to use every letter found in the anagram subject, in the case of crosswords they usually do.

Anagram examples

Sometimes crossword puzzle compilers like to purposely use parody, criticism, satire or humorous plays on the subject matter in anagrams. For example, the following anagrams create a comedic take on the anagram subject:

Eat for BSE = Roast Beef

Elvis = Lives

Rail Safety = Fairy Tales

Sometimes, anagrams which have the opposite meaning of the subject word are used – again, to humorous effect. These are occasionally referred to as ‘antigrams’. Some examples of antigrams include:

True Lady = Adultery

Store Scum = Customers

Real Fun = Funeral

Fluster = Restful

Forty Five = Over Fifty

Silent = Listen

Anagrams can also be used to change proper nouns into appropriate sentences. For example, the name “William Shakespeare” can be used to form the anagram “I am a weak-ish speller”, or “Marie Curie” could be rearranged to say “Radium came”.

The origin of anagrams

The first use of anagrams can be pinpointed back to ancient Greece. The Greeks referred to anagrams as “themuru”, which literally means “changing”. Greek use of anagrams is said to go all the way back to the third-century BC. These early anagrams were used to find mystical hidden meanings in names. Since then, anagrams have been a popular form of wordplay throughout Europe. Renowned composer and poet of the middle ages Guillaume de Machaut had a particular penchant for anagrams.

Latin influence on anagrams

When Latin was the language of the literate upper-classes, anagrams took on an almost philosophical bent. For example, the phrase “quid est veritas”, which means “what is truth?”, could be rearranged to say “est vir qui adest”, which translates to “it is the man who is here.”

Anagrams and cognitive testing

While anagrams are mostly used for fun and recreation, modern science has found serious ways in which anagrams can be put to use. Psychologists often use anagram tests in controlled conditions to assess the implicit memory association of young persons and adults. Psychologists use anagrams much in the same way a crossword compiler would in order to test their subjects.

Anagrams, pseudonyms and popular culture

Language is full of connections, and anagrams are often used as pseudonyms for writers, artists, or anyone who operates in a situation where they may want to conceal their identity – while still offering a “reveal” to those with the mental dexterity to spot it. For example, The Doors’ frontman Jim Morrison often referred to himself as “Mr. Mojo Risin’” (the track “L.A Woman” is one example of this).

The New York-based band Interpol titled their fifth album “El Pintor” – a multi-language take on an anagram. In Spanish, the term “El Pintor” translates to “The Painter” – while El Pintor is also an anagram of their name.

During filming for the revival of the BBC’s Doctor Who, tapes were labelled as “Torchwood” to prevent the leaking of any storylines. The term “Torchwood” itself was eventually used as a spin-off programme to Doctor Who.

Anagrams also form the basis of riddles in popular literature. In the Harry Potter series of books, “Tom Marvolo Riddle” translates as “I am Lord Voldemort”, and the solving of the riddle provides a reveal point in the story for the young wizard and his friends. The real beauty of this example is that it elicits the following reactions in the reader:

Reaction 1: The character of Voldemort is vain and egotistical, and using an anagram is exactly the sort of thing he would do.

Reaction 2: Because Voldemort believes he is the most talented wizard, he genuinely thinks nobody could solve the anagram.

Reaction 3: This book is incredibly well-written. The plot twist serves to suck the audience further in, and creates responses like “did JK Rowling plan this well in advance? It would take a genius to have this much forethought!”

Anagrams and social commentary

Gifted writers (including crossword puzzle compilers) will often use anagrams as a form of social commentary, or as a witty way to describe a person, place or object. For example, “moon starer” is an anagram of “astronomer”. This works on multiple levels, because the anagram is playful while also being a commentary on the subject.

Anagrams in the use of puzzles and games

Cryptic crossword puzzles often make veiled use of anagrams, particularly by using terms like “in disarray” or “confused”. For example, let’s take a crossword clue for a 9-letter word: “businessman burst into tears”. The solution to the clue is “stationer”. To solve the clue, the payer must look at the “into tears” section – an anagram of “stationer” which has “burst” from its original arrangement to create the name of a form of businessman. These sorts of crossword clue can be particularly taxing, causing much frustration and consternation among puzzlers who can’t seem to find the answer.

If you’re struggling to find the answer to a crossword anagram clue, the good news is that you don’t need to suffer! Crossword Solver has a three-step tool to help you decipher even the most puzzling of clues. Simply tell the Solution Wizard how many words make up the answer to your clue, then tell it how many letters each word has, followed by the location of any existing letters you may have filled in. Using a powerful algorithm, the Solution Wizard will be able to deliver you the answer instantaneously.