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.