Shashi Tharoor’s Word of the Week: Aptagram
APTAGRAM, noun: an anagram that incorporates the meaning of a word.
USAGE: She loved coining aptagrams as a hobby, chuckling as she transformed ‘astronomer’ into ‘moon starer’.
Creating an aptagram is a fun way of fooling around with words, but there’s surely a limit to how many meaningful coinages you can come up with that both make sense and retain the original sense of the word you are breaking up. The trick is to rearrange the letters of the word into another word or phrase that conveys a related idea or even, as with ‘moon starer’, define the word (in this case, ‘astronomer’) that you are turning into an aptagram. You have to use every letter in the one word to create the other, for it to qualify as an aptagram. ‘Tones’ and ‘notes’ (in the musical sense) are aptagrams of each other. So are ‘angered’ and ‘enraged’. One clever example I came across turned ‘laptop machines’ into ‘Apple Macintosh’.
Some aptagrams can be pretty witty: ‘dormitory’ to ‘dirty room’ could only have been coined by a parent, and ‘customers’ as ‘store scum’, by an exhausted salesman! An irritated freelancer might have changed ‘editor’ to ‘redo it’, which editors often ask you to do, and ‘irritated’ itself becomes ‘rat, I tried’, which is guaranteed to offend most editors.
Changing ‘dictionary’ to ‘indicatory’ isn’t grammatical enough to qualify, and ‘laudatory’ to ‘adulatory’ seems too obvious to elicit any applause. Some are clever but don’t quite work: ‘schoolmaster’ doesn’t really mean ‘the classroom’. ‘Lotus louts’ might be anagrams for BJP-affiliated rowdies, but not aptagrams, since ‘lotus’ and ‘louts’ don’t always connote the same thing!
The cleverest aptagram of all, perhaps, is transforming ‘eleven plus two’ to ‘twelve plus one’, which apart from using all the letters, is also mathematically accurate. The more you try, however, the more contrived the exercise becomes (‘brush’ as ‘shrub’, for instance), which is why aptagrams haven’t widely caught on. It could still work as a party game for bored English ‘teachers’, who could become ‘cheaters’ by using the Internet to do their work for them!