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LIVE - EVIL: an Ambigram and Semordnilap?

John is a long-time poet, short fiction, and article writer. He loves story-telling and also has a Certificate in Permaculture Design.


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.

Scroll to Continue

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.


John Hansen (author) from Australia (Gondwana Land) on October 24, 2020:

Thank you for letting me know you stopped here, GwennyOh. Feel free to come back to finish it any time.

GwennyOh on October 24, 2020:

I like this... I don't have time to read it all of the way through right now but I'll be back! The examples you've provided are thought candy... awesome.

John Hansen (author) from Australia (Gondwana Land) on July 29, 2018:

Thank you for a second time then MizB :) I've always got to throw a poem in there somewhere. Cheers.

Doris James MizBejabbers from Beautiful South on July 29, 2018:

John, this came back around on my feed, so I read it again and got something else from it. This time I really paid attention to the poem. In fact I think "it's just the cutest thang!" Glad it came back.

John Hansen (author) from Australia (Gondwana Land) on July 28, 2018:

Hi, Pete. I never considered the connection between "to spell" words and to "cast a spell." Thanks for the warning, I'll heed your advice.

John Hansen (author) from Australia (Gondwana Land) on July 28, 2018:

Thank you, Tamara.

Pete on July 28, 2018:

When you write words, you are creating spells. You need to spell a word to create it. Now spells are magic and magic is trickery. Don't be tricked by language.

Tamara Moore on June 20, 2017:

Excellent...LOL..Ho! Ho! :-) (Smiles)

John Hansen (author) from Australia (Gondwana Land) on June 20, 2017:

Now you have got it Tamara. You are funny, made me laugh too. Try "oh oh" for Christmas, you'll get "Ho Ho" :)

Tamara Moore on June 20, 2017:

No = On.


Ha Ha = Ah Ah.

I made myself laugh :-)

John Hansen (author) from Australia (Gondwana Land) on June 19, 2017:

Shauna, I learnt some things too as I was writing this, so it was interesting for me too. Thanks for reading.

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on June 19, 2017:

Interesting, John. I think it's fun to play with words, as in anagrams. Honestly, I've never heard the term "semordlinap", although I'm familiar with words that spell something else when written in reverse. I've never realized the relationship between Live and Evil before reading this. Guess I didn't want to!

John Hansen (author) from Australia (Gondwana Land) on June 19, 2017:

Thank you for reading Michael. Yes, words are a never ending source of interest and word games keep us far from bored.

Michael Valdez from bedminster, bristol on June 19, 2017:

There are a couple words here I did not know.

I do like the poem, life is a gamble often choice so infinately small to us, seem to have larger consequences in the long run.

I also read the comment below as to how you had the idea for this piece,

and I have the same thing happen to me at times, it can come from the smallest of sources.

Words are fun to play around with: backwards and forwards, especially if they share a direct relation to each other.

Tamara Moore on June 17, 2017:

Ohhh, ya...right. It doesn't work. Oops. Yes, STEP and PETS!

ha ha... I'm learning :-)

John Hansen (author) from Australia (Gondwana Land) on June 17, 2017:

Good try Tamara.But, HSUHS doesn't quite work. What about STEP and PETS.or POP?

Tamara Moore on June 16, 2017:

I just thought of one! "Shush" !!! (Like "Hush", but "Shush")...

John Hansen (author) from Australia (Gondwana Land) on June 15, 2017:

Thank you, Nithya. Glad you found this interesting.

Nithya Venkat from Dubai on June 15, 2017:

Interesting and informative, loved the poem.

John Hansen (author) from Australia (Gondwana Land) on June 12, 2017:

Haha, Tamara. Keep looking for words..I just don't think "jujube so" does it.

Tamara Moore on June 12, 2017:

Now, I am trying to think of words that mean something else when spelled backwards...I was trying for "Jujubes", but can't do it! (Jujubes are my favorite candy).


John Hansen (author) from Australia (Gondwana Land) on June 11, 2017:

It is never too late, Shannon. Yes it is fun playing around with words and Ambigrams etc. pity HP didn't appreciate your hub. They are not very flexible in some ways. Glad you liked the poem and felt it added content.

Shannon Henry from Texas on June 11, 2017:

Ambigrams are fun, aren't they? I too did a hub about them in poem form. I had fun playing around. Unfortunately, HP did not appreciate my creativity. LOL. See, for what I had in mind, I had to do it in another computer program and then do a screen shot. So to the HP people and technology it appeared that the hub just consisted of pretty much a single picture. Although, I think I had a paragraph or two explaining what an ambigram is.

As for you hub....very informative and the poem is interesting, too. It could stand alone, of course, but it adds more depth to my thoughts when reading it after the ambigram information. Sorry I"m so late to the game....Just going through some old notifications in my email I missed.

John Hansen (author) from Australia (Gondwana Land) on May 27, 2017:

Thank you, Ruby. Yes, even doodling can lead to inspiration to write. Cheers.

Ruby Jean Richert from Southern Illinois on May 27, 2017:

John, your doodling paid off, and I learned a new word, plus I liked your poem. Thank you..

John Hansen (author) from Australia (Gondwana Land) on May 25, 2017:

Thank you for reading and commenting , Tamara. Hugs back.

Tamara Moore on May 25, 2017:

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



John Hansen (author) from Australia (Gondwana Land) on May 24, 2017:

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

Jo Miller from Tennessee on May 24, 2017:

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

John Hansen (author) from Australia (Gondwana Land) on May 22, 2017:

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.

Linda Lum from Washington State, USA on May 21, 2017:

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.

John Hansen (author) from Australia (Gondwana Land) on May 20, 2017:

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

FlourishAnyway from USA on May 20, 2017:

Very educational. Now you have me thinking of words.

John Hansen (author) from Australia (Gondwana Land) on May 20, 2017:

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.

Nellieanna Hay from TEXAS on May 20, 2017:

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!

John Hansen (author) from Australia (Gondwana Land) on May 20, 2017:

Thank you, Manatita. Glad you liked the poem.

John Hansen (author) from Australia (Gondwana Land) on May 20, 2017:

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

manatita44 from london on May 20, 2017:

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

John Hansen (author) from Australia (Gondwana Land) on May 19, 2017:

Glad you found this interesting, Larry.

John Hansen (author) from Australia (Gondwana Land) on May 19, 2017:

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

John Hansen (author) from Australia (Gondwana Land) on May 19, 2017:

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.

John Hansen (author) from Australia (Gondwana Land) on May 19, 2017:

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.

Doris James MizBejabbers from Beautiful South on May 19, 2017:

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.

Demas W Jasper from Today's America and The World Beyond on May 19, 2017:

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.

David Hunt from Cedar Rapids, Iowa on May 19, 2017:

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.

mckbirdbks from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas on May 19, 2017:

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

Larry Rankin from Oklahoma on May 19, 2017:

Very interesting.

John Hansen (author) from Australia (Gondwana Land) on May 19, 2017:

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:





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

rjbatty from Irvine on May 19, 2017:

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

Very nicely constructed Hub.

John Hansen (author) from Australia (Gondwana Land) on May 19, 2017:

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

Tim Mitchell from Escondido, CA on May 19, 2017:

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.

John Hansen (author) from Australia (Gondwana Land) on May 19, 2017:

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.

Ann Carr from SW England on May 19, 2017:

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


John Hansen (author) from Australia (Gondwana Land) on May 19, 2017:

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

threekeys on May 19, 2017:

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!

John Hansen (author) from Australia (Gondwana Land) on May 18, 2017:

Glad this hub was educational, Louise.

Louise Powles from Norfolk, England on May 18, 2017:

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

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