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LIVE - EVIL: an Ambigram and Semordnilap?

Updated on May 19, 2017

LIVE and EVIL are portrayed as opposites and also a popular ambigram often used in tattoos, jewellery etc. "By keeping LIVE in the forefront you keep EVIL in the background."

However, what you may not know is that this word that reads as different words forwards and backwards is actually called a Semordnilap.


Palindromes, Ambigrams, or Semordnilap?

People often confuse palindromes and ambigrams. Both are forms of wordplay that rely on symmetry. Both have to do with writing words so that they can be read in multiple ways. But that’s where the similarity ends. Palindromes are words, phrases or sentences that can be read forwards or backwards, such as "kayak". “No x in Nixon” or “Madam I’m Adam” are examples of two famous phrases. Ambigrams are a kind of visual pun, where the shapes of the letters can be interpreted in two or more ways.

An ambigram is a word, art form or other symbolic representation whose elements retain meaning when viewed or interpreted from a different direction, perspective, or orientation.(Wikipedia)

A good way of differentiating between the two is by looking at a few examples. Consider the word “palindromes.” As it turns out, the word “palindromes” is NOT a palindrome. Reading it backwards actually gets you the almost unpronounceable “semordnilap.” “Semordnilap,” is, in fact, a recent but real word meaning words that can be read as two different words, backwards and forwards. This is in contrast to palindromes that read the same when reading backwards or forwards. The word “dog” which reads “god” backwards is a simple semordnilap. "Desserts" and "stressed" also, "diaper" and "repaid."

An mirror Ambigram of the word "Ambigrams"
An mirror Ambigram of the word "Ambigrams"

And Then There Are Anagrams

Now, to add to the confusion, we have the anagram.

An anagram is direct word switch or word play, the result of rearranging the letters of a word or phrase to produce a new word or phrase, using all the original letters exactly once; for example, the word anagram can be rearranged into "nag a ram". (Wikipedia)

EVIL is in fact an anagram of LIVE. So is VILE. It makes me wonder who came up with the terms and how such totally different words can be interconnected. Was there a reason for it? LIVE vs DIE, and GOOD vs EVIL are most commonly seen as the opposites. Maybe, this indicates that GOOD and LIVE are connected, as are DIE and EVIL. I like to think so anyway.

So, the words LIVE and EVIL can be a Semordnilap, Anagram, and Ambigram.


Life's Gamble - a Poem

Live or die,

Good or evil,

Follow God

Or choose the Devil.

The choice is yours

Thrown to the wind.

You can be good,

Or turn to sin.

So, take a chance

And throw the dice.

Take where it lands,

You can't throw twice.

A gambler's luck

Often runs out,

So if you lose

It's Hell's way out.



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    • Coffeequeeen profile image

      Louise Powles 6 days ago from Norfolk, England

      Well I learned something new today. I didn't know the meanings of the words palindrome and ambigram.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 6 days ago from Queensland Australia

      Glad this hub was educational, Louise.

    • threekeys profile image

      ThreeKeys 6 days ago from Australia

      I knew about these kinds of words but I wasn't aware of the technical term. Like Louise I learnt something new today. How delicious, Jodah!

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 6 days ago from Queensland Australia

      Hi ThreeKeys. It's always good to be able to inform or teach someone something new.

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 6 days ago from SW England

      Well explained, John! Love the poem using all those types of words and spelling out a great message at the same time!


    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 6 days ago from Queensland Australia

      Thank you, Ann. I've actually been throwing ideas around for this hub for quite awhile and wasn't happy with where it was going. It finally came together well enough to publish.

    • tsmog profile image

      Tim Mitchell 6 days ago from Escondido, CA

      Very interesting. I learned something. I have always thought it was mysterious that live backward was evil and lived is devil. I use to play with words trying to make anagrams. A well written poem of wise words offering pondering with a nod of the head.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 6 days ago from Queensland Australia

      Thank you for reading, Tim. It seems this article is proving very educational for most readers. I had never heard the term semordnilap either.

    • rjbatty profile image

      rjbatty 6 days ago from Irvine

      John: What got you going on this -- that is -- what motivated you initially?

      Very nicely constructed Hub.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 6 days ago from Queensland Australia

      Good question, RJ. I was doodling on a sheet of paper and wrote the word "live", then wrote it backwards "evil" and set it out like:


      I V

      V I


      Then was wondering what I could do with it, so began researching Ambigrams etc. Anyway, this hub was the result. Thanks for commenting.

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 6 days ago from Oklahoma

      Very interesting.

    • mckbirdbks profile image

      mckbirdbks 6 days ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

      Hello John - You just disproved the adage about old dogs and learning. Brilliant. 'You can't throw twice,' - Ain't that the truth.

    • UnnamedHarald profile image

      David Hunt 6 days ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

      Interesting article. Of course all this is a function of what language is being used. The fact that "live" is "evil" backwards in English has the same significance that "god" and "dog" have. In other words, there is no significance beyond the curiosity of language, but that doesn't stop some from trying to read something more into it.

    • Perspycacious profile image

      Demas W Jasper 6 days ago from Today's America and The World Beyond

      With casual repentance one can throw the dice again. With sincere repentance one will never need to again; though more repentance for something else will likely be needed later on.

    • MizBejabbers profile image

      MizBejabbers 5 days ago

      I learned something new today, too. Palindromes and anagrams were a big joke around our office at one time, but semordnilaps and ambigrams, I'll have to pull those on our two PhDs (that stands for piled higher and deeper, you know, and they do quite often). Time somebody piled some on them. Thanks for a good write, my friend.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 5 days ago from Queensland Australia

      Demas, casual repentance is a vastly overused get-out clause for repeat sinners. They think they can do anything they like without consequence if they keep repenting. Sincere repentance is all that counts.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 5 days ago from Queensland Australia

      Thanks for your take on the words, Unnamed Harold. Maybe, I should study these words as they are written in other languages and determine if their is any similar correlation. It is only natural curiosity that leads people to try and read other meanings into anything. I have never delved into the origins of the words, English or otherwise. Perhaps that is a prompt for another hub.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 5 days ago from Queensland Australia

      Thanks, Mike. I certainly learnt something. Glad you did too.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 5 days ago from Queensland Australia

      Glad you found this interesting, Larry.

    • manatita44 profile image

      manatita44 5 days ago from london

      Well, totally different approach, but the poem's excellent!

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 5 days ago from Queensland Australia

      Hi MizB, I like your definition of PhDs :) I hope you can use this to your advantage. Cheers.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 5 days ago from Queensland Australia

      Thank you, Manatita. Glad you liked the poem.

    • Nellieanna profile image

      Nellieanna Hay 5 days ago from TEXAS

      Oh, Jodah, your take on these figures of speech is fascinating! I love it. Your choice of fonts for LIVE and EVIL lend more to it! I'll re-read it to absorb the subtleties more. Thanks for the stimulating hub this morning!

      Your poem is excellent, as well!

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 5 days ago from Queensland Australia

      It's great to see you, Nellieanna. I am so glad you found this hub stimulating and that you enjoyed the poem as well. Thank you so much for the lovely comment.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 5 days ago from USA

      Very educational. Now you have me thinking of words.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 4 days ago from Queensland Australia

      That is great, Flourish. I hope you come up with some good ones.

    • Carb Diva profile image

      Linda Lum 3 days ago from Washington State, USA

      Wow! Who knew? I certainly learned something new today. Thank you for adding this to my vocabulary (although I'm not sure how often it might come up in casual conversation). But, it sure is something to muse upon. Now I'm trying to come up with other semordnilaps.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 3 days ago from Queensland Australia

      It see snap semordnilap is a new term for most people (including me). It's nice that you learnt something from this, Linda. Thanks for reading.

    • jo miller profile image

      jo miller 19 hours ago from Tennessee

      Very nice hub. Informative (like others, I learned something new) and inspirational. What an ingenious poem.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 15 hours ago from Queensland Australia

      Hi, Jo. Thanks for the compliment on the poem, and glad you learnt something too.

    • Tamara Moore profile image

      Tamara Yancosky Moore 38 minutes ago

      I like your rhyming poem and also your words that, when spelled backwards, makes a new word! I especially like the "desert" word:-)



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