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An acrostic (from the late Greek akróstichis, from ákros, "top", and stíchos, "verse") is a poem or other form of writing in an alphabetic script, in which the first letter, syllable or word of each line, paragraph or other recurring feature in the text spells out a word or a message. As a form of constrained writing, an acrostic can be used as a mnemonic device to aid memory retrieval. A famous acrostic was made in Greek for the acclamation JESUS CHRIST, GOD'S SON, SAVIOUR (Greek: Ιησούς Χριστός, Θεού Υιός, Σωτήρ; Iesous CHristos, THeou Yios, Soterch and th being each one letter in Greek). The initials spell ICHTHYS (ΙΧΘΥΣ), Greek for fish – hence the frequent use of the fish as a symbol for Jesus Christ from the early days of Christianity to the present time.[1]



Acrostics may simply spell out the letters of the alphabet in order. These acrostics occur in the Lamentations of Jeremiah, Proverbs 31, 10-31, and in Psalms 9, 10, 25, 34, 37, 111, 112, 119 and 145 of the Hebrew Bible[2]. Notable among the acrostic Psalms are the long Psalm 119, which typically is printed in subsections named after the letters of the Hebrew alphabet, each of which is featured in that section; and Psalm 145, which is recited three times a day in the Jewish services.

The ease of detectability of an acrostic can depend on the intention of its creator. In some cases an author may desire an acrostic to have a better chance of being perceived by an observant reader, such as the acrostic contained in the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili (where the key capital letters are decorated with ornate embellishments), or as in the poem To Doctor Empiric (by Ben Jonson) which is a verse outlined after the word W-O-L-F giving emphasis to, and capitalizing the key letters so such acrostic is relatively easier to discern.[3] However, acrostics may also be used as a form of steganography, where the author seeks to conceal the message rather than proclaim it. This might be achieved by making the key letters uniform in appearance with the surrounding text, or by aligning the words in such a way that the relationship between the key letters is less obvious. This is referred to as null ciphers in steganography, using the first letter of each word to form a hidden message in an otherwise innocuous text.[4] Using letters to hide a message, as in acrostic ciphers, was popular during the Renaissance, and could employ various different methods of enciphering, such as selecting other letters than initials based on a repeating pattern (equidistant letter sequences), or even concealing the message by starting at the end of the text and working backwards.[5]


The Dutch national anthem Het Wilhelmus[6](The William) is also an acrostic: the first letters of its fifteen stanzas spell WILLEM VAN NASSOV. This was one of the hereditary titles of William of Orange (William the Silent), who introduces himself in the poem to the Dutch people.

A classic example of acrostic poem in English written by Edgar Allan Poe is entitled simply An Acrostic[7]:

Elizabeth it is in vain you say
"Love not" — thou sayest it in so sweet a way:
In vain those words from thee or L.E.L.
Zantippe's talents had enforced so well:
Ah! if that language from thy heart arise,
Breath it less gently forth — and veil thine eyes.
Endymion, recollect, when Luna tried
To cure his love — was cured of all beside —
His follie — pride — and passion — for he died.

Another example is from Lewis Carrol's "Through the Looking-Glass". The final chapter "A Boat, Beneath A Sunny Sky"[8] is an acrostic of the real Alice's name: Alice Pleasance Liddell.

A boat, beneath a sunny sky
Lingering onward dreamily
In an evening of July -

Children three that nestle near,
Eager eye and willing ear,
Pleased a simple tale to hear -

Long has paled that sunny sky:
Echoes fade and memories die:
Autumn frosts have slain July.

Still she haunts me, phantomwise,
Alice moving under skies
Never seen by waking eyes.

Children yet, the tale to hear,
Eager eye and willing ear,
Lovingly shall nestle near.

In a Wonderland they lie,
Dreaming as the days go by,
Dreaming as the summers die:

Ever drifting down the stream -
Lingering in the golden gleam -
Life, what is it but a dream?

Here is another example where the initial letters spell out the months of the year, entitled A Calendar Acrostic:

JANet was quite ill one day.
FEBrile trouble came her way.
MARtyr-like, she lay in bed;
APRoned nurses softly sped.
MAYbe, said the leech judicial
JUNket would be beneficial.
JULeps, too, though freely tried,
AUGured ill, for Janet died.
SEPulchre was sadly made.
OCTaves pealed and prayers were said.
NOVices with ma'y a tear
DECorated Janet's bier.

In October 2009, Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Governor of California employed an acrostic to convey a message to the members of the State Assembly that would have been unacceptable to express directly. In this case, the initial letters of the lines rather than sentences of the brief letter spelled the words "Fuck you". [9][10] Similar tactics were used in 2001 by Stephen Pollard to conceal the message "Fuck you, Desmond" in a Daily Express article.[11]

In January 2010, Jonathan I. Schwartz, the CEO of Sun Microsystems, sent an email to Sun employees on the completion of the acquisition of Sun by Oracle Corporation. The initial letters of the first seven paragraphs spelled "Beat IBM".[12]

James May's hidden message

James May, presenter on the BBC program Top Gear, was fired from the publication Autocar for spelling out a message using the large red initial at the beginning of each review in the publication's Road Test Yearbook Issue for 1992. Properly punctuated, the message reads: "So you think it's really good? Yeah, you should try making the bloody thing up. It's a real pain in the arse."[13]

A former employee of Rupert Murdoch's Sky Sports television station who worked as a staff writer on the channel's website has claimed that he and his colleagues would regularly use acrostics to spell out hidden messages in articles on the website in protest at being told to "write as though football was invented in 1992". Two of the messages claimed to have been spelt out on the website were "Andy Gray fists geese" and "Rupert Murdoch is a cunt".

Multiple acrostics

Acrostics can be more complex than just by making words from initials. A double acrostic, for example, may have words at the beginning and end of its lines, as this example, on the name of Stroud, by Paul Hansford -

Set among hills in the midst of five valleyS,
This peaceful little market town we inhabiT
Refuses (vociferously!) to be a conformeR.
Once home of the cloth it gave its name tO,
Uphill and down again its streets lead yoU.
Despite its faults it leaves us all charmeD.

Triple Acrostic by Thomas Browne.jpg

This example can be considered a more complex form of acrostic. This classical poetry is entitled Behold, O God![14] written by William Browne published in 1815 in his book "Original Poems By William Browne." The poem has highlighted letters inside its verses such that when they are grouped together, printed as red letters in the manuscript, the letters depict three crosses and the topmost middle cross reads "INRI," in Latin means "Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum" translated as "Jesus of Nazareth King of Jews." The crosses contain verses from the New Testament. The left cross contains Luke 23:42 "Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom." The middle cross contains Matthew 27:46 "O God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" The right cross contains Luke 23:39 "If thou art the Christ, save thyself and us."

BEHOLD, O God! IN RIvers of my tears
I come to thee! bow down thy blessed ears
To hear me, wretch, and let thine eyes (which sleep
Did never close) behold a sinner weep:
Let not, O GOD, MY GOD, my faults through great,
And numberless, betWeen thy mercy's seat
And my poor soul be tHrown! since we are taught,
Thou, LORD, REMEMBER'st thYne, IF THOU [ART] be sought.
I coME not, Lord, witH any oTHEr merit
Than WHat I by my SAviour CHrist inherit:
Be thEN his woundS my balm; his stRIpes my bliss;
My crown his THorns; my deaTh be loST in his.
And thOU, my blesT Redeemer, SAviour, God,
Quit my acCOunts, withHold the VEngeful rod!
O beg for ME! my hOpes on Thee are set;
And ChriST forgiVe, as well as pay tHe debt
The livINg fount, the liFe, the waY, I know,
And but TO thee, O whither Should I go?
All oTHer helps aRe vain: grant thinE to me,
For in thY cross my Saving heaLth must be.
O hearKen then whAt I with Faith implore,
Lest SIN and Death sinK me for evermore.
Lastly, O God! my ways dirEct And guide;
In death DefeNd me, that I Never slide;
And at the doOM let Me be raiseD then,
To live with thEe; sweet JesUS, say Amen!

See also


  1. ^ "Acrostic". Retrieved 2008-09-09. 
  2. ^ "Acrostic Psalms". Retrieved 2008-09-09. 
  3. ^ "To Doctor Empiric". Retrieved 2008-09-09. 
  4. ^ "Steganography". Retrieved 2008-09-09. 
  5. ^ "Cryptology". Retrieved 2008-09-09. 
  6. ^ "HetWilhelmus:Dutch National Anthem". Retrieved 2009-05-13. 
  7. ^ "Edgar Allan Poe:An Acrostic". Retrieved 2009-05-13. 
  8. ^ "Lewis Carroll: Through the Looking Glass". Retrieved 2009-05-13. 
  9. ^
  10. ^ Bialik, Carl (2009-11-05). "Coincidental Obscenity Deemed Extremely Dubious". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 2009-11-11. 
  11. ^ Hughes, Kathryn (14 January 2001). "Who gives a Friar Tuck?". The Guardian. Retrieved 2009-11-11. 
  12. ^ Paczkowski, John (2010-01-21). "Sun CEO: Go Oracle!". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 2010-01-22. 
  13. ^ "Captain Slow takes the fast lane - TV & Radio - Entertainment". Retrieved 25 Jan 2010. 
  14. ^ "WilliamBrowne:Behold O God!". Retrieved 2009-05-15. 

External links


Source material

Up to date as of January 22, 2010

From Wikisource

by John Keats

Give me your patience, sister, while I frame
Exact in capitals your golden name,
Or sue the fair Apollo, and he will
Rouse from his heavy slumber and instill
Great love in me for thee and Poesy.
Imagine not that greatest mastery
And kingdom over all the realms of verse,
Nears more to heaven in aught than when we nurse
And surety give, to love and Brotherhood.

Anthropophagi in Othello's mood,
Ulysses stormed and his enchanted belt
Glow with the Muse, but they are never felt
Unbosomed so and so eternal made,
Such tender incense in their laurel shade,
To all the regent sisters of the Nine,
As this poor offering to you, sister mine.

Kind sister! ay, this third name says you are.
Enchanted has it been the Lord knows where.
And may it taste to you like good old wine,
Take you to real happiness and give
Sons, daughters and a home like honeyed hive.

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

ACROSTIC (Gr. eucpos, at the end, and orixos, line or verse), a short verse composition, so constructed that the initial letters of the lines, taken consecutively, form words. The fancy for writing acrostics is of great antiquity, having been common among the Greeks of the Alexandrine period, as well as with the Latin writers since Ennius and Plautus, many of the arguments of whose plays were written with acrostics on their respective titles. One of the most remarkable acrostics was contained in the verses cited by Lactantius and Eusebius in the 4th century, and attributed to the Erythraean sibyl, the initial letters of which form the words 'IncroiS X s OeoiJ vie o w11]p: " Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Saviour." The initials of the shorter form of this again make up the word ixfis (fish), to which a mystical meaning has been attached (Augustine, De Civitate Dei, 18, 23), thus constituting another kind of acrostic.

The monks of the middle ages, who wrote in Latin, were fond of acrostics, as well as the poets of the Middle High German period, notably Gottfried of Strassburg and Rudolph of Ems.

The great poets of the Italian renaissance, among them Boccaccio, indulged in them, as did also the early Slavic writers. Sir John Davies (1569-1626) wrote twenty-six elegant Hymns to Astraea, each an acrostic on "Elisabetha Regina"; and Mistress Mary Fage, in Fame's Roule, 1637, commemorated 420 celebrities of her time in acrostic verses. The same trick of composition is often to be met with in the writings of more recent versifiers. Sometimes the lines are so combined that the final letters as well as the initials are significant. Edgar Allan Poe worked two names - one of them that of Frances Sargent Osgood - into verses in such a way that the letters of the names corresponded to the first letter of the first line, the second letter of the second, the third letter of the third, and so on.

Acrostic verse has always been held in slight estimation from a literary standpoint. Dr Samuel Butler says, in his "Character of a Small Poet," "He uses to lay the outsides of his verses even, like a bricklayer, by a line of rhyme and acrostic, and fill the middle with rubbish." Addison (Spectator, No. 60) found it impossible to decide whether the inventor of the anagram or the acrostic were the greater blockhead; and, in describing the latter, says, "I have seen some of them where the verses have not only been edged by a name at each extremity, but have had the same name running down like a seam through the middle of the poem." And Dryden, in Mac Flecknoe, scornfully assigned Shadwell the rule of Some peaceful province in acrostic land.

The name acrostic is also applied to alphabetical or "abecedarian" verses. Of these we have instances in the Hebrew psalms (e.g. Ps. xxv. and xxxiv.), where successive verses begin with the letters of the alphabet in their order. The structure of Ps. cxix. is still more elaborate, each of the verses of each of the twenty-two parts commencing with the letter which stands at the head of the part in our English translation.

At one period much religious verse was written in a form imitative of this alphabetical method, possibly as an aid to the memory. The term acrostic is also applied to the formation of words from the initial letters of other words. 'IXOis, referred to above, is an illustration of this. So also is the word "Cabal," which, though it was in use before, with a similar meaning, has, from the time of Charles II., been associated with a particular ministry, from the accident of its being composed of Clifford, Ashley, Buckingham, Arlington and Lauderdale. Akin to this are the names by which the Jews designated their Rabbis; thus Rabbi Moses ben Maimon (better known as Maimonides) was styled "Rambam," from the initials R.M.B.M.; Rabbi David Kimchi (R.D.K.), "Radak," &c.

Double acrostics are such as are so constructed, that not only initial letters of the lines, but also the middle or last letters, form words. For example: - i. By Apollo was my first made.

A shoemaker's tool. 3. An Italian patriot. 4. A tropical fruit. The initials and finals, read downwards, give the name of a writer and his nom de plume. Answer: Lamb, Elia. 1. L yr E 2. A L 3. M azzin I 4. B anan A

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Bible wiki

Up to date as of January 23, 2010

From BibleWiki

(Akros stichos, "at the end of a verse".)

A poem the initial or final letters (syllables or words) of whose verses form certain words or sentences. Its invention is attributed to Epicharmus. The most remarkable example of such a poem is attributed by Lactantius and Eusebius to the Erythræan sibyl, the initial letters forming the words Iesous Christos Theou houios soter (stauros), "Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour (cross)". Omitting the doubtful parenthesis, these words form a minor acrostic: Ichthys, fish, the mystical symbol of our Lord. The acrostic is supposed to have been quite popular among the early Christians. In a wider sense the name acrostic is applied to alphabetical or "abecedarian" poems. In this kind of poetry the successive verses or stanzas begin with the successive letters of the alphabet. We see this exemplified is Pss. cxi, cxii, cxix (Vulg. cx, cxi, cxviii); Prov., xxxi, 10-31; Lam., i, ii, iii, iv; and in a less regular manner, in Pss. x, xxv, xxxv, cxlv (Vulg. ix, xxiv, xxxiv, xxxvi, cxliv); Ecclus., li, 18-38. (See HEBREW POETRY, PARALLELISM, PSALMS).

Portions of this entry are taken from The Catholic Encyclopedia, 1907.

Simple English

An acrostic is a poem or other form of writing. In an acrostic, the first letter, syllable, or word of every line, paragraph, or other feature spells out a word or a message. It can be used to remember things. For example, Edgar Allan Poe wrote an acrostic poem in English:[1]

Elizabeth it is in vain you say "Love not" — thou sayest it in so sweet a way: In vain those words from thee or L.E.L. Zantippe's talents had enforced so well: Ah! if that language from thy heart arise, Breath it less gently forth — and veil thine eyes. Endymion, recollect, when Luna tried To cure his love — was cured of all beside — His follie — pride — and passion — for he died.

The first letters of each line (E, L, I, Z, A, B, E, T, H) spell out Elizabeth.



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