What are the hallmarks of a good anagram?
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In general, the appreciation of a high-quality anagram
stems from the fact that it is such an outlandish coincidence
that two related phrases should contain precisely the same letters.
Many of the following attributes, constituting the hallmarks
of a good anagram, are based upon this one principle.
The following has been paraphrased from erudite postings
on the subject by Richard Brodie, William Tunstall-Pedoe, Richard
Grantham and Jean Fontaine. Anagrammy-winning illustrations of each
hallmark are on the right.
Relevance or reference to the subject is arguably the primary
goal of anagramming. This generally involves the use of synonyms
of key words from the subject in a paraphrase of, or commentary
or joke about, the original. Occasionally, the anagram may even
be the direct opposite in meaning (an antigram);
however, anagrams that are neither synonymous with nor antonymous
to their subjects are unlikely to be as widely appreciated.
Fire of London =
Dinner of fool.
do with it]
No finer flood.
all right, but the wrong one]
Inferno of old.
the disaster spot on]
The more directly apt an anagram is, the better it is likely
to be received. An anagram that is indisputably true but that
only indirectly suggests the nature of its subject is occasionally
referred to as an ambigram, though where that line lies
is highly subjective. On the other hand, indirect but unexpected/whimsical
angles on subjects are often well received, and anagrams of this
sort that excel in all other areas have frequently gone on to
pick up Awards.
Madonna Louise Ciccone =
I once made a conclusion.
she did, but the
'gram is far too big a stretch]
A cool, demonic nuisance.
One cool dance musician.
this one is both apt AND
(David Bourke, 2000)
The better and more natural an anagram's grammar and expression,
the more strongly it will convey its message. Even in the case
of very short anagrams (where complete sentences are harder to
form), something that sounds like a meaningful sentence element
is to be preferred - simply reordering the words can make a big
difference. Condensations that sound like newspaper headlines
are also acceptable. Longer anagrams should have impeccable grammar,
however, because the scope of having so many letters allows great
flexibility in construction.
A carton of cigarettes =
Oft got a irate cancers.
O, air to get cancer fast.
perfect but acceptably
I got a taste for cancer.
this one is grammatically
(Meyran Kraus, 2002)
Avoidance of incorrect spelling.
This detracts from the quality of the anagram and makes it seem
contrived or the author seem semi-literate. Regional variations
in English (such as color/colour and realize/realise) are perfectly
acceptable and can often be exploited to improve an anagram;
uncommon alternative spellings for words are also acceptable,
but not preferred. Old-fashioned spellings (hath, doth, aye,
nay, 'tis) and shortened words like 'n' (for "and"),
e'er or ma'am may also be employed, but these (especially 'n')
are usually best avoided.
I let go torrents o' gas.
[the use of "o'"
is a minor flaw]
(Larry Brash, 2000)
Clever use of punctuation.
Whilst punctuation is often best avoided, it can definitely improve
an anagram if cleverly used. There has been some debate as to
whether the addition of an ampersand (&) qualifies as valid
punctuation, or if this constitutes cheating; this is largely
in the eye of the beholder, but to be safe it is best to avoid
adding ampersands where possible.
Medicinal marijuana =
A cure? I'm in a damn jail.
[works well as two brief phrases]
(Larry Brash, 1999)
Minimal use of interjections.
Whilst the use of "oh", "O", "eh",
"hey", "ah", "ahem", "oy",
"shhh", "OK" and so on can be a handy way
of getting rid of leftover letters, excessive use of this device
will damage an anagram. Ideally there should be none at all,
but the use of a single, minor interjection (usually "O"
or "Oh") in an otherwise excellent anagram is unlikely
to be considered a major flaw.
The Great Pyramid of Cheops =
My God! Perfect Pharaoh site!
[in this case, the interjection
actually enhances the anagram]
(Richard Brodie, 2000)
The shorter an anagram is, the more unlikely and thus impressive
its existence. Even as few as thirteen letters can be arranged
in over a billion different ways, and though most of those arrangements
are meaningless the implications for larger texts (even 20 to
30 letters) start to become clear. By about 60-70 letters (and
particularly in the hundreds or thousands of letters) there are
so many possible permutations that the clever coincidence that
gives a short anagram its value has long since disappeared, and
has been replaced by an appreciation of the author's skill.
(Adrian Hickford, 2002)
Careful use of non-keywords.
If the leftover letters fail to do justice to the anagram, the
best keyword in the world will not save it. Apart from their
potential to cause grammatical difficulties, leftovers can ruin
an anagram by providing too much information in the form of an
indirect addition or unnecessary description. If no apt or useful
additions can be found, it is generally best to keep words made
from leftovers as unobtrusive as possible.
A skeleton in the cupboard =
The artisan locked up bone.
[good keywords, but 'artisan' is
And lock up the irate bones.
[better result with same keywords,
but 'irate' is still wayward]
Bones are locked up in that.
[non-keywords are now spot
(Allan Morley, 2001)
Repeating a key word (or a significant fragment of one) from
the original in the subsequent anagram detracts from the cleverness
of the result. The repetition of "the" and other short
non-keywords is acceptable, of course. Occasionally, repetition
is used deliberately for effect and the result is sometimes referred
to as a parallelogram.
These girls are barely legal. =
The "girls" are really beagles.
[deliberate repetition for
(Richard Grantham, 2000)
Avoidance of contrived subject texts.
The best anagrams are those where the subject is a pre-existing,
well-defined text. If the anagrammatist has resorted to making
significant modifications to the original in order to make the
anagram work, forcing a coincidence rather than trying to discover
those generated by the subject alone, then the result is considerably
weakened in the eyes of many. Altering a subject by adding the
definite or indefinite article, or a person's middle name or
title, is a much less serious flaw.
A Nintendo Gameboy =
Made to be annoying.
[adding an "a" made
this one work]
(James H. Young, 2001)
An anagram should be self-explanatory; it should not need any
extra explanation or comment. It is best to concentrate for the
most part on subjects that are well-known enough for the anagram
to be clearly and widely understood; occasionally, however, the
subject matter of an otherwise outstanding anagram may be obscure/regional
or the anagram may refer to a little-known aspect of the original,
in which case it may validly be accompanied by some brief details.
In the majority of cases, however, an anagram that requires an
explanation is likely to be weak.
Giovanni Pergolesi =
I love opera singing!
[here, the anagram itself acts
as sufficient explanation]
(Meyran Kraus, 2001)
Be it witty, rude, sarcastic or whimsical, humour will always
improve an anagram - especially if the punchline contains a real
surprise. Rude anagrams are a particular favourite, but please
remember they aren't to everyone's taste.
He's a legend in his own mind =
Neil Diamond, when he sings.
(Tom Myers, 2002)
Updated: May 10, 2016