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Posted at: Jan 13, 2018, 12:46 AM; last updated: Jan 13, 2018, 12:46 AM (IST)

A little mixing & we’ve an anagram

Ratna Raman
A little mixing & we’ve an anagram

Ratna Raman

FROM the Greek, ana (anew) gramma (letter), the Latin ‘anagramma’ and the French ‘anagramme’, anagram has formed part of the English language since the late 16th century. Any word whose letters can be rearranged to produce a different meaning is an anagram. Acrobats among words, anagrams often provide brilliant displays of ‘dexterity’ (nimbleness).

The letters in ‘read’ can be rearranged to speak of someone very ‘dear’. This is a simple anagram wherein the arrangement of letters is simply reversed. Anagrams do not have to follow this pattern as in ‘satin’, like statecraft, is difficult to maintain, because each and every ‘stain’ shows up on the absorbent fabric.

Whenever wrong ‘steps’are taken, they become the aadhaar for really annoying ‘pests’. It is possible to ‘spar’ (to box) with words and make them ‘rasp’ (grating sound).However, any ‘spat’ (quarrel)carrying over from an obscure ‘past’ must be discarded if we wish to build a happy future. Meanwhile, ‘taps’ should remain tightly closed to prevent water wastage, but friendly ‘pats’are usually welcome.

Although anagrams can provide new meanings, they often become examples of inaccurate spellings, as in ‘bare’ and ‘bear’. Bear is a word with many meanings: to tolerate, or to produce flowers, fruit or offspring. When the letters are turned around, we get ‘bare’ which means minimal or empty.  Old Mother Hubbard in the nursery rhyme was poor and her cupboard was bare. However,  whena student writes that he met a ‘bare’ in the jungle or that the trees on farms ‘bare’ fruit, this is evidence of  a rather poor acquaintance with language, since  the  correct usage  requires bears to live in the jungle and trees to bear fruit.

Baloo the bear from The Jungle Book sings the delightful song, ‘Look for the bare necessities, the simple bare necessities’, and as the words bounce off  the bear’s tongue, they  make for a memorable anagram pun. The word ‘angle’ is often pushed out of   geometry into mystical experience when  divine winged messengers are incorrectly described as ‘angles’ instead of  ‘angels’.

Another word that works as both anagram and incorrect spelling is the word ‘rescue’. As a teacher, I have often seen it incorrectly spelled as ‘recuse’. Very often, answers that detail the ‘recuse’ of a shipwrecked passenger, or the ‘recuse’ of kidnapped children by alert policemen  are marked as incorrect since the appropriate word  is ‘rescue’— both a measure and a word that aids those in difficult situations, and saves them. 

It is only as we grow out of adventure stories that we discover that recuse is not merely a misspelling,but a powerful word in its own right. ‘Recuse’ (Latin ‘recusare’; to refuse) describes the action of  judges or jurors  who recuse (excuse) themselves from legal proceedings to uphold impartiality and prevent conflict of interests. Politically elected leaders, however, cannot recuse themselves from volatile situations, because their brief is to ‘rescue’ the hapless and defuse divisive conflagrations.

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