Let's Get Ready To Jumble!
9th September 2020
You could be forgiven for thinking that the anagram is a modern invention; a little wonder of wordplay borne out
of our incessant desire to find meaning and magic in the mundane. But in fact, the art of anagramming - rearranging
the letters of a word or phrase to form another expression - has been around for centuries, with historians mapping
its origins as far back as Ancient Greece. Since then, the anagram has served as a form of flattery, a literary
device and a test of implicit memory, but despite its various applications, the beauty of this form has always lain
in its simplicity. That, and its somewhat startling propensity to reveal an element of truth or insight about its
Nowadays, solving anagrams is a fun, recreational activity; they’re often published as puzzles in daily newspapers /
magazines, employed as cryptic crossword clues or utilised in television game shows such as the Countdown Conundrum.
However, in centuries past, the anagram was a somewhat more serious literary form, and anagrammatists were held in
high regard by the rich and noble, who would pay handsome fees to be entertained by their wit. Louis XIII was perhaps
most notable amongst these, famously employing a Royal Anagrammatist, Thomas Billon, to create amusing, prophetic
anagrams for the princely sum of 1200 livres.
Over time, anagrams have evolved from simple, single word jumbles and humorous near definitions like China / chain,
listen / silent, dormitory / dirty room, to antigrams whose rearranged meaning is almost the exact antithesis of the
original - funeral becomes real fun, forty five becomes over fifty. More recently, the trend has tended towards short
phrases that serve to comment on their subject, such as the letters of Jennifer Aniston neatly rearranging into
‘Fine in Torn Jeans’ (a statement with which many will agree), and complex reconstructions of entire paragraphs that
provide insight on the original.
The dawn of the Internet has made both the construction and solving of anagrams a much simpler task. Over the last
few decades, numerous websites have popped up, running programs that generate anagrams from any phrase in a matter
of mere seconds. Everything from anagramming your name to advanced options with multiple parameters is now available
at the touch of a button, but manual construction is still favoured by purists who believe that a computer’s inability
to recognise satire can lead to the omission of the very best anagrams.
Regardless of whether generated by mind or by machine, it’s evident that there are skilled anagrammatists all around
us, producing fabulous anagrams for our entertainment. Here are Brainy Cow’s top six, in no particular order...
Clint Eastwood = Old West Action
The ancient Greeks are believed to have been the first to anagrammise the names of people in a quest for mystical
meaning, but the practice soon spread and has remained prevalent in many literary and learned circles since that
time. Many actors, authors and musicians have used anagrams of their own names as pseudonyms or in the creation of
characters, and the form has become a favourite when thinking up unique handles on social media platforms. There is
something almost magical about rearranging the letters of a person’s name to reveal an appropriate expression, and
whilst examples of these abound online, few can match this reshuffle of the great American actor, Clint Eastwood.
The Eyes = They See
The best anagrams are those which reflect on their subject, either in high praise, simple honesty or humorous
criticism. Enthusiasts of the form will often proclaim that ‘the truth is in the anagram’, and it is quite
remarkable just how many words, phrases and names can have their letters reshuffled to reveal their true meaning.
From the simple four letters of evil transforming to vile and elegant man becoming a gentlemen, there are umpteen
examples of anagrams serving as synonyms of their subject. The eyes / they see is my personal favourite.
Vladimir Nabokov = Vivian Darkbloom
Vladimir Nabokov is undoubtedly one of the great literary stylists of the twentieth century, writing dazzling prose
in both Russian and English. Amongst his seemingly infinite bag of tricks, Nabokov used his own name to tease and
mislead the reader and add an extra layer of intrigue to the narrative. In Pnin - the novel’s unreliable narrator -
Vladimir Vladimirovich, is thought to be the author himself, and in his most celebrated work - Lolita - the
character of Vivian Darkbloom is a perfect anagram of the author’s name.
Stressed = Desserts
One of the most well known anagrams, made all the greater for its letters being simply reversed and not jumbled,
stressed / desserts serves as comical recognition of the fact that many of us (me included) tend to eat more - and
less healthily - when we’re under pressure. It is also used by some (me included) to justify doing just that!
Rocket Boys = October Sky
If you’re unfamiliar with the story of Homer Hickham Jr, it’s most definitely a tale worth getting acquainted with.
Born in Coalwood, West Virginia, Hickham - son of a local miner - was destined - like all the town’s young men -
for the same career as his father, until the sight of Sputnik racing through the night sky in October 1957, inspired
him to take up rocketry. His memoir - Rocket Boys - was published in 1998, and adapted for the cinema under the name,
October Sky, a year later. The two titles are - you’ve guessed it - anagrams of one another!
Eleven Plus Two = Twelve Plus One
And finally, Brainy Cow loves words and numbers in equal measure. So anything that elegantly combines the two is an
obvious winner in our eyes. This popular anagram is perfection on many levels. Not only are the two expressions
anagrams of one another, but the numbers add up too! 11 + 2 really does make 12 + 1, and by the simple art of
Now, count the letters in each phrase... what do you notice? Magic, no?