Antigrams: When Opposites Attract ... the Same Word

When is Santa actually Satan? Can someone who is demonical really be a docile man? When you create a new word from the letters of another word, and that new word has the opposite meaning, it’s called an antigram. Creating antigrams is no small feat, but appreciating them is the privilege of a true wordsmith.

Inferno and Non-fire as Antigram Example with flame Inferno and Non-fire as Antigram Example with flame
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Single-Word Antigrams

The word antigram is a portmanteau of antonym (opposite meaning) and anagram (a word created with the letters of another). Antigrams are an especially clever way for word lovers to exercise their vocabulary skills, as the new word must use all of the original letters and have the opposite meaning.

Antagonist - Not Against

The antagonist of a story is the character whose motivation goes against the protagonist's (main character's) goals. "Not against" definitely doesn't describe an antagonist.

Customers - Store Scum

Those who have worked in customer service may not agree, but in general, customers aren't considered "scum" in the stores where they shop.

Dormitories - Tidier Rooms

No one who’s ever stepped foot in a dormitory would describe the rooms as “tidier.” (At least not once the students have moved in.)

Earliest - Arise Late

The earliest bird gets the worm — but what about the bird that may “arise late?” No one would argue that these antigrams describe birds (or people) on very different schedules.

Funeral - Real Fun

Funerals are somber and emotional experiences. Unless your sense of humor is more morbid than most (or you’re deep in a Goth phase), you wouldn't describe one as "real fun."

Inferno - Non-Fire

An inferno is a large, out-of-control fire that can quickly become destructive. Knowing that the antigram for “inferno” is “non-fire” may be of little reassurance in such a situation.

Misfortune - It's More Fun

In the midst of misfortune, it’s hard to find any fun at all. That’s why its antigram, “it’s more fun,” is quite the antonymous statement.

Saintliness - Entails Sins

A person who possesses saintliness is without sin. The antigram "entails sins" certainly would describe their opposite.

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Teacher - Cheater

If there's anything a teacher dreads, it's having a cheater in class. That's why it's particularly bad luck that the antigram for "teacher" is "cheater."

United - Untied

The word “untied” is a common misspelling for “united.” Even worse, they’re antigrams — writing one instead of the other provides the opposite meaning in your sentence.

Violence - Nice Love

Violence and love have no business being in the same sentence, much less the same word.

Well-Being - We'll Binge

Regulation is key to one's well-being. Its antigram, "we'll binge," isn't exactly a healthy habit.

Phrase Antigrams

Do single-word antigrams seem too simple? Check out these multi-word phrases that manage to reflect an opposite sentiment.

A Volunteer Fireman - I Never Run to a Flame

A volunteer fireman needs to be ready for fire-related danger at every turn. Someone who never runs to a flame isn't going to be much help at a big fire.

I Am Flustered - I, Made Restful

When you tell someone “I am flustered,” you’re likely in a stressful or agitated mindset. Its antigram, “I, made restful” may only be possible after some meditation and CBD oil.

Voting Honestly - Voting on the Sly

If you’ve ever “voted on the sly,” you’ve filled out a ballot for someone who you may not vocally support outside the polling station. It’s a fitting antigram to “voting honestly.”

Within Earshot - I Won't Hear This

If you can hear something, you're in earshot. But what if you refuse to hear it? Scrambling “within earshot” results in a surprisingly combative antigram.

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Find the Antigrams

Now for the ultimate test: Can you unscramble the following words and phrases to find their antigrams?

  1. ailed

  2. reliable

  3. butchers

  4. filled

  5. diplomacy

Antigram Answers

Could you figure out all the antigrams? Some were trickier than others!

  1. ailed - ideal

  2. reliable - a libeler

  3. butchers - cut herbs

  4. filled - ill-fed

  5. diplomacy - mad policy

Playing With Words

Using antigrams and other examples of wordplay in your writing not only expresses your mastery of the English language, but it also amuses even the most reluctant readers. Find more wordplay ideas and examples to keep the fun going.