The Best Anagram in English.

Mark Dominus describes his method of finding and ranking anagrams in this post:

This gave me the idea to score a pair of anagrams according to how many chunks one had to be cut into in order to rearrange it to make the other one. On this plan, the “cholecystoduodenostomy / duodenocholecystostomy” pair would score 3, just barely above the minimum possible score of 2. Something even a tiny bit more interesting, say “abler / blare” would score higher, in this case 4. Even if this strategy didn’t lead me directly to the most interesting anagrams, it would be a big step in the right direction, allowing me to eliminate the least interesting.

This rule would judge both “aal / ala” and “zolotink / zolotnik” as being uninteresting (scores 2 and 4 respectively), which is a good outcome. Note that some other boring-anagram problems can be seen as special cases of this one. For example, short anagrams never need to be cut into many parts: no four-letter anagrams can score higher than 4. The trivial anagramming of a word to itself always scores 1, and nontrivial anagrams always score more than this.

So what we need to do is: for each anagram pair, say acrididae (grasshoppers) and cidaridae (sea urchins), find the smallest number of chunks into which we can chop acrididae so that the chunks can be rearranged into cidaridae.

You can read further details at the link, as well as seeing other candidates; his pick for the single best anagram in English is cinematographer / megachiropteran: “It is 15 letters long, and the only letters that stay together are the E and the R. “Cinematographer” is as familiar as a 15-letter word can be, and “megachiropteran” means a giant bat. GIANT BAT! DEATH FROM ABOVE!!!”


  1. There are some stories there. Is the earringed grenadier desired by the married admirer? Are shortened threnodes a timesaving negativism?

    Maybe, too, one day someone will collect the best palindromes which actually sound like language, not the forced phrases peppered with odd interjections.

  2. For best (not longest) palindrome, Y, my candidate would be the classic “Straw? No, too stupid a fad. I put soot on warts.” I believe that one is by Sam Loyd.

  3. David Marjanović says

    and “megachiropteran” means a giant bat. GIANT BAT! DEATH FROM ABOVE!!!

    Well, it means “fruitbat”.

    Scientific names that differ by the position of a single letter are pretty common. Behold Osteocephalus the extant frog and Oestocephalus the 310-million-year-old snake-shaped mystery being called an aïstopod…

    Somewhat relatedly, the German language comes with the tradition of Schüttelreim or arguably Rüttelschleim: rearrange word onsets to create a rhyming poem.

    Auf dem Flachdach
    ist das Dach flach.

    Es klapperten zwei Klapperschlangen,
    bis ihre Klappern schlapper klangen.

    Die Boxer aus der Meisterklasser,
    die hauen sich zu Kleistermasse.
    Und aus dem ganzen Massenkleister
    erhebt sich stolz der Klassenmeister!

  4. That makes me think of Christian Morgenstern. I’m sure he didn’t write such poems, but I imagine the author of “Igel und Agel” (Schnigula schnagula/ schnaguleia lü!) would have enjoyed them.

  5. I’d like to know what the score would be for Vivian Darkbloom—Vladimir Nabokov.

    (And how to scale it for comparison from two words to one.)

  6. The film The Mothman Prophecies involved both a cinematographer and a megachiropteran.

  7. Vivian Darkbloom

    There was also Dr Entsic, the famous insect scient…

  8. Y: In English anagrams, at least, it’s traditional to neglect the spaces. If we segment “Vivian Darkbloom” into pairs {“vi”, “iv”, “ia”, “an”, “nd”, “da”, “ar”, “rk”, “kb”, “bl”, “lo”, “oo”, “om”}, we see that none of these pairs occurs in “Vladimir Nabokov”. Thus the score is 15, the maximum possible.

  9. There was also Dr Entsic, the famous insect scient…

    That sicent me.

  10. Some anagrammed pseudonyms, here. I am particularly fond of Edgar Cuthwellis.

  11. I’m partial to subtext, myself. Only one conserved pair out of six if I count correctly.

  12. Giacomo Ponzetto says

    Y, in Italian Primo Levi wrote remarkable palindromes, which I find neither forced nor odd, albeit considerably darker than Johnathan Morse’s example above.

    E lì varrete terra vile
    Ettore evitava le madame lavative e rotte
    Il livido sole, poeta ossesso, ateo, peloso di villi
    È mala sorte: ti carbonizzino braci, tetro salame!

    The classical riddle in girum imus nocte et consumimur igni has many qualities, though I’m unsure if anyone can judge any longer how natural it sounds in Latin

  13. January First-of-May says

    My favorite long one-word Russian anagram is старорежимность / нерасторжимость (15 letters), but it would only score 8 by this method, I think. Then again, I don’t know many others.
    (My other favorite, апельсин / спаниель, would score 7; and incidentally I was pretty sure the correct spelling was спаниэль, but my spellchecker thinks the other way.)

    I actually took it from an old (1990s?) article about a computer search for Russian anagrams; I can’t recall anything more from that article except the longest pair, of 20 letters – фототелеграфирование / телефотографирование (this comes out to “photo-telegraphy / tele-photography”, so it’s at least slightly clever in not actually being the exact same thing – unlike the longest English pair – but it still looks silly, and scores 3).
    IIRC, the 15-letter pair above was the longest found non-trivial pair (I don’t recall what they meant by “trivial”).

    That said, I suspect the dictionary that this article was based on was not very heavy on random physical, chemical and biological jargon (though of course Russian has a lot of long words even without it).
    EDIT: and googling suggests that the 20-letter pair was found independently, without a computer.

    I’d like to know what the score would be for Vivian Darkbloom—Vladimir Nabokov.

    Louis de Montalte—Amos Dettonville (this is not on the linked page, incidentally, presumably because neither of them was his real name – nor was another anagram he briefly used, Salomon de Tultie).

    I’ve checked Francois Rabelais and Alcofribas Nasier, and I think that scores 14 (because “fr” and “co” stay together but nothing else does).

    EDIT: some googling finds me my new favorite Russian pair, австралопитек / ватерполистка. Score appears to be 11, but that’s only part of why it’s so funny.

    A nice thematic Russian example (which I also wasn’t aware of before) is бейсбол / бобслей, literally “baseball” and “bobsled”. Both, I believe, are Olympic sports.

    And on the “anagram-based verse” theme, an incredible small poem by Dmitry Avaliani:

    “Аз есмь строка, живу я, мерой остр.
    За семь морей ростка я вижу рост.
    Я в мире — сирота.
    Я в Риме — Ариост.”

  14. Thanks for the Levi palindromes – I have only beginner’s Italian, but the palindromes look really natural to me. One question – how would you translate the subjunctive in the last line? “May they be carbonized”?

    The classical riddle in girum imus nocte et consumimur igni has many qualities, though I’m unsure if anyone can judge any longer how natural it sounds in Latin.
    Well, at least it sounds quite natural compared to the convoluted constructions classical writers created. Although those who knew their Greek would probably have written gyrum, which would have ruined the palindrome.

  15. my new favorite Russian pair, австралопитек / ватерполистка

    That’s great, and is now my own favorite as well!

  16. Why бобслей?

  17. Thanks. I have heard once of that, how you say, “ice”.

  18. in girum imus nocte et consumimur igni

    Not just a palindrome but a very nearly hexametric one — spoiled again only by girum, whose Greek original γῦρος has a long first vowel. I wonder if there are any perfect palindromic hexameter lines in either language.

  19. David Marjanović says

    an incredible small poem

    I sit in awe.

    a very nearly hexametric one

    I can’t scan it; help?

  20. in gi/rum ī/mus noc/te (e)t con/sumimur/ igni

    Of course, you have to accept a horrible hiatus in the second foot, but we can just pretend it’s “gīrumm.”

  21. Giacomo Ponzetto says

    Hans, I would translate (poorly, but I believe with the right grammatical structure): it’s bad luck: let coals burn you, gloomy sausage!

    TR, I believe girum works in the hexameter because one can invoke synalepha of -um. The problem is that nocte is a disallowed trochee. The conventional fix is an insertion: in girum imus nocte, ecce, et consumimur igni. But I find it contrived and metrically I no longer find the caesura.

  22. Oh, I was wrong twice: I forgot that īmus has unetymological long ī, and was trying to make it In gĭr(um) ĭ|mus…, but that would only give five feet anyway. The patch with ecce works, at least.

  23. @ Giacomo Poncetto: Grazie!

  24. Giacomo Ponzetto says

    TR, I haven’t found online any authoritative discussion of the precise origins of the palindrome, but surely it is post-classical by several centuries.

    For speakers of a romance language, reading the shorter version as a hexameter is deceptively easy. You only need a pause, which the sentence provides anyway:

    in gīr(um) | īmus | nocte || . | et con|sūmimur | igni

    Everything that makes scansion hard in classical poetry is missing: words fit within feet whenever they can, all stresses fall on long syllables and only the first on a thesis. I suppose Christian authors wrote “hexameters” like these, though we didn’t study such late Latin in school.

    I like to think this is the original version of the palindrome and that then some pedant (possibly the author himself) corrected it by adding ecce, which turns a memorable sentence with a natural romance rhythm into a clever gimmick:

    in gīr(um) | īmus | noct(e) ec|c(e) et con|sūmimur | igni

    And I still wonder how clever. Can anyone who’s studied hexameters past high school find the caesura?

  25. David Marjanović says | prī.ma. sa|ta ‘s.t ae|tas || quae | vin.di.ce | nul.lō
    spon.te. su|ā. | lē.ge. fi|dem || rec|tum.que. co|lē.bat
    in. gī|r’ ī.mus | noc.t’ ec|c’ et || con|sū|r ig.nī

    ˉ˘˘ | ˉ˘˘ | ˉˉ | ˉ||ˉ | ˉ˘˘ | ˉˉ
    ˉ˘˘ | ˉ˘˘ | ˉ˘˘ | ˉ||ˉ | ˉ˘˘ | ˉˉ
    ˉˉ | ˉˉ | ˉˉ | ˉ||ˉ | ˉ˘˘ | ˉˉ

    …so it’s in the middle of the fourth foot, where it belongs. The thing that throws people off is the almost complete lack of short syllables.

  26. Giacomo Ponzetto says

    Thanks, David Marjanović: your reading is metrically perfect. What throws me off is that it doesn’t work prosodically for me.

    With Ovid, I read:

    Aurea prīma sata est aetas, quae vindice nullō,
    sponte suā, sine lēge, fidem rectumque collēbat

    Maybe this is a high-school mistake, but we were allowed both the second-foot and the third-trochee caesurae, which coincide with the natural placement of commas.

    But what am I going to do with the palindrome? The meter says

    In gīrum īmus nocte ecce et, consūmimur ignī

    but common sense says

    In gīrum īmus nocte, ecce, et consūmimur ignī

    which clashes with the caesura and with both synalephae.

    Perhaps I’m insufficiently poetical, a hypothesis admittedly supported by additional unrelated evidence.

  27. David Marjanović says

    I’m no expert either! Before this thread I didn’t know a hexameter is supposed to have a caesura…

  28. Indeed. Note that in Classical metrics, the caesura is a pause in the sense, as opposed to alliterative meter where the caesura divides the two half-lines metrically.

  29. I wonder how common classical hexameter lines without a plausible principal caesura are. Wiki mentions Horace’s

    Non quivis videt inmodulata poemata iudex “Not every critic sees an inharmonious verse”

    — which seems to be ironic. Anyway it’s never been clear to me whether caesurae have any real significance, or are just another device for torturing schoolboys.

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