Column: You’ll flip over these words


Commentary by Curtis Honeycutt

If I started to tell you about something called “ambigram,” you might think it’s one of two things: Either a new graham cracker that doubles as a sleep aid or a new social media platform for people who can use both hands equally well. In fact, an ambigram is neither of those things. Let’s figure out what it is!

Unlike a palindrome such as “racecar,” where the letters are the same if the word is reversed, an ambigram is a word that can be read as the same word from different angles. Other names used for ambigrams include vertical palindromes, designatures and inversions. For today’s lesson, I’d like to discuss my favorite type of ambigram, the “natural rotational” ambigram.

For this to make sense, let’s start with an example. The word “dollop” (with a lowercase “d”) is a great example. If you rotate the word “dollop” 180 degrees, it reads “dollop.” That’s cool! What are some other natural rotational ambigrams? As we’ll soon see, this depends on the typeface you’re using. But you’re smart enough to turn your head (or newspaper or computer monitor) around to make sense of these examples: pod, mow, swims, solos, passed, paled and seas. Pretty soon you’ll be dizzy from flipping words around in search of ambigrams.

Do you want to turn some more words on their heads? A “symbiotogram” takes one word when written regularly and becomes a different word when turned at an angle. Again, today we’ll turn the words 180 degrees, which is the most common way people encounter symbiotograms.

Let’s share some examples. Take the word “wow”: when you rotate it 180 degrees, it becomes “mom.” That’s a symbiotogram. Others include deal/leap, sail/lies, sled/pals, dooms/swoop and pies/said.

There are plenty of other types of word designs that form different words — whether they are held up to a mirror to reveal a different word or are designed by calligraphers or graphic designers, who have more creative license to bend the letters. Pretty soon you’ll start noticing these unique word designs in logos and in print and you’ll feel like a bonafide word nerd. Either that, or you’ll start to go cross-eyed as if you were staring at one of those magic eye posters from the ‘90s.