Column: A backward take on words


Commentary by Curtis Honeycutt

I always wanted to be a spy. Wouldn’t it be cool to save the world by chasing bad guys from roof to roof in a crowded, far-off city? I doubt the CIA will be calling me anytime soon, but today I have a fun way to find some coded language hiding in plain sight.

Before I get to the word nerd stuff, what’s to say I’m not a highly trained secret agent? It’s the perfect cover: An unassuming newspaper freelance writer swoops in at the last second to prevent the evil villain from shooting high-powered paintballs at a litter of orphaned, endangered tiger cubs. How do you know that I’m not doing stuff like that on the weekends?

Pipe dreams aside, today I’d like to take a look at ananyms and anadromes. Ananyms are backward names while anadromes are backward words.

An ananym is a pseudonym (or false name) using a real name written with the letters arranged in reverse order. It comes from the greek “ana-” (back) and “-nym” (name). For instance, if the CIA hired me, my code name could be “Sitruc.” No one would ever guess it was me.

Plenty of American town names got their names from reversing the letters of the town’s founder or the name of another prominent resident. These include Nedrow (Worden), N.Y.; Mahned (Denham), Miss.; and Remlap (Palmer), Ala.

Of course, not all ananyms are town names. Famously, Oprah Winfrey’s production company is called Harpo. In the multiple vampire sagas (the movie “Son of Dracula,” the video game “Castlevania” and the manga series “Hellsing,” to name a few), we see characters named “Alucard,” which is an ananym for “Dracula.” The closest ananym to my heart is “Seltaeb,” a merchandising company founded in 1963 to protect licensing and trademarking products depicting The Beatles.

We get the word anadrom from the Greek “ana-” (back) and “-drome” (course or road). For instance, “stressed” and “desserts” are anadromes of each other. The same goes with “drawer” and “reward”; “diaper” and “repaid”; “deliver” and “reviled”; and “nametag” and “gateman.”

When it comes to town names, anadromes are all over the place. The town of Nolem, Fla., was named as such because “Nolem” is “Melon” spelled backward. Does the town grow tons of melons? Let’s call it Nolem! We also see this naming technique in the towns of Ekal (lake), Fla.; Enola (alone), S.C.; Ragic (cigar), Ore.; Tesnus (sunset), Texas; and my personal favorite, Rotavele (elevator), Calif.

Perhaps I’ll never get to come up with cool, backward codenames, but I consider myself an agent of the English language. If you need me, I’ll be listening to Stevie Wonder’s 1968 album, “Eivets Rednow.”


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