Palindromes and Anagrams

PALINDROME refers to any word or sentence that reads the same backwards or forwards. The name Otto, for instance, is a palindrome. Civic spelled backwards is still civic, hence, a palindrome. Other examples are madam, noon, level, and tenet. Adam is supposed to have introduced himself to Eve with the palindrome, “Madam, I’m Adam.” To be precise, these are “reciprocal” palindromes.

 

A “reversible” or “recurrent” palindrome is a word that when spelled backwards creates a new word unrelated to the first. Such reversible palindromes include star, dog, revel, and emit.

 

ANAGRAM, although related to the palindrome, is historically more significant. An anagram is a word or phrase created by rearranging the letters of another word or phrase. Stone, for example, is an anagram of notes. Death is an anagram of hated. Some cultures have attached mystical significance to anagrams. Isaac D’Israeli informs us that the ancient Hebrews classed anagrams among the cabalistic sciences and that “Plato had strange notions of the influence of Anagrams when drawn from persons’ names.”

 

It was long believed that anagrams made from persons’ names provided insight into the individuals themselves, and people used to cudgel their brains to cypher out a revealing anagram from the name of someone they loved or hated or wanted to know more about. A translator in seventeenth century England wrote in one of his books a fulsome dedication to his sovereign and felt completely justified in piling on the compliments when he discovered the anagram a just master in the name James Stuart.

 

Joseph Addison wrote whimsically of an anagrammatist who shut himself up for half a year trying to work out an appropriate anagram for his mistress, but on presenting his anagram, he learned that he had misspelled her last name. He soon lost his senses, “which, indeed, had been very much impaired by that continual application he had given to his anagram.” This unfortunate gentleman did not have access to a personal computer; otherwise, he could have straightened out the mess in no time, for we now have online programs that spit out anagrams almost instantaneously. Here are some author names run through anagramgenius.com:

 

Christopher Marlowe—“Which moral poets err?”

William Shakespeare—“I am a weakish speller.”

Michael Drayton—“Lyric had no meat.”

Samuel Richardson—“Has lurid romances.”

Edward Gibbon—“Bored windbag.”

George Gordon Noel Byron—“Bonny doggerel or an ogre.”

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley—“Hey! Tall fellow! Scary monster!”

Samuel Taylor Coleridge—“Gloom led literary cause.”

Edgar Allan Poe—“Ape and all gore.”

Mark Twain—“Am rank wit.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson—“Person whom all read.”

Henry David Thoreau—“Another heavy druid.”

Anthony Trollope—“Hotel yarn. No plot.”

Arthur Conan Doyle—“Carry on, hound tale.”

Andre Gide—“I deranged!”

Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde—“Irish fellow scrawled at life in gaol.”

George Bernard Shaw—“Abhorred newer gags.”

Gilbert Keith Chesterton—“The gentle brick theorist.”

David Herbert Lawrence—“He bad and clever writer.”

Sir Osbert Sitwell—“Writes. Still bores.”

Gertrude Stein—“Registered nut.”

Ernest Hemingway—“Sneer, weighty man.”

Tennessee Williams—“Went senile as slime.”

Howard Phillips Lovecraft—“Tall chap for devil-worship.”

William Butler Yeats—“A really sublime twit.”

Gerard Manley Hopkins—“A shy, dreaming plonker.”

T. S. Eliot—“Toilets.” (Almost a reversible palindrome.)

Agatha Christie—“Rich hag is at tea.”

Albert Camus—“Am scrutable?”

Wystan Hugh Auden—“Hush! Unwanted gay.”

Anne Sexton—“On next, sane.”

Kurt Vonnegut—“Overt gunk nut.”

 

It appears the ancient Hebrews and Plato were on to something.

 

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