Vo­cab

Friday - - Mind Games -

As a lan­guage lover, do you have a men­tal col­lec­tion of your own favourite word or sen­tence odd­i­ties that amaze and give you en­dur­ing plea­sure? Let me share some of my favourites.

As ex­pected, ana­grams fea­ture promi­nently in this list – not any old ones, but the witty, self-ref­er­en­tial ones. Crossword puz­zlers have long been familiar with the trans­for­ma­tion of ‘moon starer’ to ‘as­tronomer’. Look around, and there are many more: adores and so dear, am­ne­sia and am I sane?, no doubt and bound to, gar­dener and a green Dr, does align and along­side, to name a few. There are some spec­tac­u­lar near-misses: cae­sar­ian sec­tion trans­forms well into neonate scar case, which is a bit con­trived, but if only ‘sec­tion’ were spelt sec­tuan, we could ar­rive at neonate scar cause, which is flaw­less.

Speak­ing of per­fec­tion, eleven plus two and twelve plus one are not only el­e­gantly ac­cu­rate ana­grams, they bal­ance each other on ei­ther side of an equals sign (=) to make per­fect math­e­mat­i­cal sense. An­other in­stance is the male/fe­male pair of Sir and Dame (salu­ta­tions for a knighted male and fe­male) wherein, by sim­ply trans­pos­ing the ‘e’, you get sire and dam, the terms for male and fe­male par­ents of a quadruped as used in breed­ing.

To di­gress slightly, ty­pog­ra­pher John Lang­don (in whose hon­our au­thor Dan Brown named his pro­tag­o­nist in The Da Vinci Code) once ob­served not only how the lo­gos of AVIS and VISA could be so al­tered, but that their italic cap­i­tal fonts were iden­ti­cal as well.

Then there are the celebrity and proper-noun ana­grams. That fa­mous ship in Gil­bert and Sul­li­van’s opera HMS Pinafore is beau­ti­fully trans­formed into name for ship. Word lovers ev­ery­where are familiar with Clint East­wood be­com­ing old west ac­tion and Ge­orge Bush and he bugs Gore. The most in­ter­est­ing ex­am­ple is also a great bit of et­y­mo­log­i­cal trivia: side­burn, the patch of fa­cial hair grown on the sides of the face, ex­tend­ing from the hair­line to be­low the ears, is named af­ter an Amer­i­can Civil War gen­eral who sup­pos­edly started the trend. His name? Am­brose Burn­side.

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