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Early Uses of Anagrams

Anagrams are not quite such a modern idea as you might imagine. According to some historians, anagrams originated in the 4th century BC with the Greek poet Lycophron who use them to flatter the rich and mighty. Other sources suggest that Pythagoras, in the 6th century BC, used anagrams to discover deep philosophical meanings.

In Roman and early Christian times, anagrams were often believed to have mystical or prophetic meaning . After this, anagrams appear to have been little used until the 13th century AD, when the Jewish Cabalists also attributed a mystical significance to them.

Anagrams started to become popular in Europe in the Middle Ages. In the days of French royalty, Louis XIII actually appointed a Royal Anagrammatist, Thomas Billon, to entertain the Court with amusing anagrams of people's names.

However, the principal activity of anagrammatists in the Middle Ages was in forming anagrams on religious texts (see Biblia Anagrammatica by Walter Begley on the Anagram Books page).

In the past authors have anagrammed their names to create pseudonyms. For example, Francios Rabelais became Alcofribas Nasier and Calvinus became Alcuinus.

Modern Uses of Anagrams

In the 16th and 17th centuries, scientists, such as Galileo, Huygens and Robert Hooke, often recorded their results in anagram form to stake their claim on a discovery and prevent anyone else claiming the credit.

The 19th century brought about the vogue of anagramming the names of famous people (see also celebrity anagrams), something which is still very popular today. This era also gave us the cognate anagram, where the anagram has some relevance to the original, e.g. an anagram of Astronomer is Moon starer.

In recent decades, anagrams have become popular in a different role. They are often included in the clues for cryptic crosswords.

With the help of computer-based anagram generator software such as Anagram Genius it has become quicker and easier to produce high quality anagrams. There is nevertheless still great skill required to create good anagrams, even using these anagram finder programs.

(Based on information from alt.anagrams and The Anagram Dictionary by Michael Curl.)

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