Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Ha! The Man of Great Rat (The Art of the Anagram)

Anagram: a word or term formed by rearranging the letters in another word or term.

Writers love anagrams. Romance writer Jennifer St. Giles named her villain in Touch a Dark Wolf Dr. Cinatas, and his medical research company Sno-Med. Simply turn the letters around and you have “Satanic” and “Demons.” Dan Brown used anagrams in The Da Vinci Code. When the dying Sauniere spelled out “O Draconian devil! O lame saint!,” the message he was trying to get out was, “Leonardo da Vinci! The Mona Lisa!”

In children’s literature, Lemony Snicket often used anagrams in his Series of Unfortunate Events. The first book in the series, The Bad Beginning, features a play written by Al Funcoot, an anagram for the villainous actor Count Olaf. Lemony Snicket captured the essence of the anagram: they work well for villains because they’re slightly deceptive. They can also be funny.

A perceptive reader (especially readers of mystery novels, where they’re also frequently used) can spot them a mile away. A more casual reader may not discover the word game until the characters do. There’s also a cleverness to a good anagram that makes it fun and can make the reader laugh out loud. That’s why anagrams work well in humorous writing.

The best anagrams form words and phrases that are real words and can easily be pronounced, as in the Da Vinci Code example. If simply spelling a word backwards doesn’t turn up a good anagram, you’ll have to scramble. Write the word or phrase at the top of a piece of paper. Start picking out words you can make with those letters, crossing each letter off as you write it down below. Then check to see if you can make any words from them. It often takes several attempts to come up with a good anagram you can work into a short story or novel.

(You can also cheat and use the Anagram Genius website, which lets you input text and turns it into an anagram for you. For the title of this article it suggested, “Ahem! The arrogant fat.”)

Many people practice coming up with anagrams by starting with their own names, or with the names of famous authors. Edgar Allan Poe becomes “Ape and All Gore,” which is especially apt since he wrote gory horror stories, at least one of which (“Hop-Frog”) features an ape. William Shakespeare becomes “I am a weakish speller,” and Charlotte Bronte becomes “Tolerant Botcher.”

If you want to give a personal stamp of ownership to a piece of writing while remaining anonymous, you could use an anagrammatic name. Clever readers may find you out, though.


  1. I love anagrams. I put them in a lot of my blog posts. This morning I posted some anagrams for brain parts:

  2. It's a cool thought, but I've never tried it. Maybe I need to.


  3. I've never tried it but it sounds cool.

    Have a nice day!