I’ve been reading some of Dylan Thomas’s early short stories. I noticed fairly quickly that one of the recurring place names in them, “Llareggub,” is “bugger all” backwards; but it didn’t occur to me to look carefully at other names in them.
But then I poked around online to find out more about the stories, and found a paper that quoted Thomas as referring to a “chorus of deadly sins, anagrammatized as old gentlemen,” and the paper connected that phrase to Thomas’s story “The Holy Six.”
So I went back and looked at that story. The six men referred to in the title have these names:
- Mr. Stul
- Mr. Edger
- Mr. Vyne
- Mr. Rafe
- Mr. Lucytre
- Mr. Stipe
The introduction of those characters in the first paragraph of the story describes the reaction that each of them has to seeing women in the town that they’re passing through; if you’re paying attention (as I was not), those descriptions are strong hints about what each of the men represents.
After I understood that they were anagrams, I could decipher most of them easily:
…But I had more trouble with the last two. Stipe, I thought: pesti, as in pestilence? tipse, as in tipsy? piest, sort of like priest? piste?
I looked at a list of the Seven Deadly Sins:
…but Thomas’s use of fear made clear that this was not an exact correspondence, so that list wasn’t especially helpful.
I ended up resorting to an online anagram generator, which told me the answer for Stipe: it is, of course, spite.
But that still left me with Lucytre. I tried the anagram generator on that—but all the anagrams it could find were cut rely and utc rely. I started to think that maybe Thomas had made a partial or misspelled anagram.
But then I noticed that Lucytre anagrams to cutlery, which is not a major sin as far as I know, but which is a valid and fairly common English word. Which revealed to me that the anagram generator I was using was not a good one.
So I went where I should have gone in the first place: the good old I, Rearrangement Servant, a.k.a. Internet Anagram Server, my go-to source for quality machine-generated anagrams for decades.
And it found not only cutlery but also the word that Thomas intended: cruelty.
On a side note: further reading made clear that the first anagram generator that I had looked at is a human-created anagram generator; it apparently only lists anagrams that its human users have explicitly entered. That kind of approach works well for crowdsourced systems like Wikipedia, but it seems to me to be a terrible approach to an anagram generator, where a computer can generate all possible anagrams of a given string of letters much faster and more reliably than a human can.
I can imagine a human-curated system, where the computer generates all the possibilities and humans indicate which ones are the best or most common or most likely or funniest or whatever. I can even imagine letting humans add annotations, to include things like near-anagrams and explanations of puns. But showing only those anagrams that a human has specified just doesn’t seem like a good idea to me.