Anagrams, Synograms & Antigrams

Let’s start with the question “What’s an anagram?”

I think the best way to answer this would be with the Bristol-based street artist, Banksy.

Here he is:

Wikimedia Commons

Just joking. That’s not Banksy; it’s Günter Grass, the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1999.

No one knows what Banksy looks like – he’s one of those artists.

Back when he got started, Banksy used a lot of rats in his art:

Wikimedia Commons

One day, someone noticed that “rat” had the same letters as “art,” just all mixed up.

This is what Banksy had to say on the matter:

“I’d been painting rats for three years before someone said, ‘That’s clever. It’s an anagram of “art”’ and I had to pretend I’d known that all along.”

See that word there? Anagram?

“Rat” is an anagram of “art.”

So, anagrams are basically words that have the same letters but in a different order.

Some obvious examples are “cat” and “act,” “elbow” and “below” and “dog” and “God.”

But what about synograms and antigrams?

Well, synograms and antigrams are both types of anagrams.

A synogram is an anagram that has the same meaning as the original word, like “note” and “tone.”

An antigram is an anagram that has the opposite meaning of the original word, like “united” and “untied.”

Here they are in a nice Venn diagram:

“OK – so far, so …. not particularly interesting,” I can hear you saying.

And to that I say, “Fair point!” 

But some of these synograms and antigrams can have such similar (and opposite) meanings that it kind of looks like magic sometimes.


OK, let’s start with the classic example:

Eleven plus two = Twelve plus one

Yeah, I know!

It’s like it was designed that way! Like magic!

Well, there’s a lot more where that came from …

Synograms that describe people’s roles/jobs

There are a lot of synograms that describe people.

I suppose that makes sense.

We’re people. We’re interested in people. We have opinions about people.

Father-in-law = near halfwit

“Halfwit” is another word for idiot. But somehow funnier.

While we’re here, what’s the deal with this universal habit of poking fun at the in-laws?

Speaking of which …

Mother-in-law = woman Hitler

My mother-in-law is really nice. But this is pretty funny.

Astronomer = moon starer

Yep. All they do is just stare at the moon, right?

A gentleman = elegant man

A telephone girl = repeating “hello”

Not the best job in the world.

Garbage man = bag manager

I was a garbage man for about two weeks when I was young. It was surprisingly fun, and I enjoyed the early mornings.

One day I was happily cleaning up a rather posh street in a rather posh part of town when a rather posh woman was walking past wearing rather posh clothes.

“Good morning!” I said cheerfully.

“Not with a job like yours it isn’t!” she said, and then just walked on … poshly.

Some people are strange!

Anyway … let’s get back on track.

Synograms that describe actual people

By now, you probably have a good feeling for the flexibility of anagrams. It’s like we can make anagrams out of anything.

So it wouldn’t be so surprising to see that famous people get the synogram treatment, too.

George Bush = He bugs Gore

Well, he did. I think they’re kind of friends now.

Clint Eastwood = old West action

He’s old. He does action films. And they’re often Westerns. Yep – this glove fits.

Ronald Reagan = a darn long era

It really was. But this isn’t the only Reagan synogram and certainly not the most savage:

Ronald Wilson Reagan = insane Anglo warlord


Elvis = lives

Does he, though?

Madonna Louise Ciccone = one cool dance musician

Yep – that’s Madonna! How can this be a coincidence?

Bart (as in Bart Simpson) = brat

A brat is basically an annoying and badly behaved kid.

Like Bart Simpson.

I actually kind of think that the creators chose his name because of this …

… and I just checked. Yep! It’s Bart “Brat” Simpson.

Madam Curie = radium came

The woman who discovered radium had “radium” in her name! How awesome is that?!

Tom Cruise = so I’m cuter

Alec Guinness = genuine class

“Class” can be used to mean “excellence” or “prestige.”

And when you look into Alec’s eyes, you can see that he is, indeed, genuine class:

Wikimedia Commons

After looking at all these, I couldn’t stop wondering: Did these people end up doing the things they did because of their names?

I mean, did a teenage Madonna sit around in her kitchen one day, bored, playing with anagrams of her name, discover the “one cool dance musician” anagram and suddenly decide to become a pop sensation?

Yes. The answer must be “Yes,” right?

Synograms that describe how something works

Another fun way to create synograms is getting them to describe the function of the original word.

The eyes = they see

Yep. That’s what they do.

Unless you’re Superman. Then they also shoot lasers, which would be really, really useful while camping or supervising small children.

The ears = hear set

A set of hearing!

The Morse code = here come dots

Here’s some fun trivia.

Back in the ‘90s there was a very popular British TV show called Inspector Morse. It was one of those crime thriller shows.

Because the show shared its name with the code, the musician who did the soundtrack actually embedded some Morse code into the soundtrack. The code spelled out “M.O.R.S.E.

I love it when musicians get creative like that!

A decimal point = a dot in place

Yep! More dots.

Slot machines = cash lost in me

Don’t lose your money! Save it!

Debit card = bad credit

What did I just tell you?

Synograms to describe places

Dormitory = dirty room

I went to boarding school for seven years, and I can tell you that there’s no way you can have 24 kids in a room and keep it clean at the same time.

It’s just impossible.

The public art galleries = large picture halls, I bet

Sure. Picture halls and banana-taped-to-wall halls, too.

Other synograms

Conversation = voices rant on

A rant is when someone just talks for ages without any real content or meaning.

Think about those people who write posts on Facebook but ALL IN CAPS ALL THE TIME LIKE THEY’RE SHOUTING.

That’s ranting.

Listen = silent

A lesson we could all learn.

This reminds me of the expression that goes something like, “We have one mouth, but two ears, so we should spend half our time speaking and twice that time listening.”

OK – I appreciate the sentiment, but if we all did that, then … well we couldn’t. What would we be listening to?

Election Results = lies, let’s recount!

I love this one.

I’ve got a strange feeling that this might be quite relevant in a few months’ time …

Vacation time = I am not active

This is especially true for what I call the “beach people.”

People who can just spend hours on the beach lying around and relaxing.

I wish I had the patience for that.

Payment received = paid me every cent

And now we’re friends again!


And now … onto the antigrams!

For some reason, there just aren’t as many antigrams out there as there are synograms.

Maybe it’s people like spending time making things match. It’s in our human nature to tidy things up and make them fit together, I guess.

Funeral ≠ real fun

It’s really not.

Violence ≠ nice love

Only for the most twisted.

Santa ≠ Satan

This reminds me of a (very bad) joke:

“Did you hear about the dyslexic devil worshipper? He sold his soul to Santa.”

Saintliness ≠ entails sins

“Entails” means “contains.”

Being a saint, I’d imagine, would necessarily require no sin, right?

Antagonist ≠ not against

An antagonist is someone who is against something. Not someone who is not against something.

If you know what I mean.

Diplomacy ≠ mad policy

Well, to be fair, some diplomacy creates some pretty strange results.

Harmfulness ≠ harmless fun

A volunteer fireman ≠ I never run to a flame

Firefighters are awesome.

Butchers ≠ cut herbs

Only the herbs that are embedded in the sausages.

Dormitories = tidier rooms

I’ve never seen a tidy dormitory in my life.

And there we have it.

A fun thing to do, if you’re stuck on the beach with nothing to read, is to try and make some of your own.

I’d just start with a few anagrams and then see if you can make some synograms and antigrams, too.

It’s actually easier than it looks – honest!

Gabriel Clark, LOS Consultant & Clark and Miller Co-founder