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palindrome (PAL-in-droam) noun

A word (such as "level"), a compound (such as "race car"), a sentence (see below), or a longer statement that communicates the same message when the letters of which it is composed are read in reverse order.

[From Greek palindromos (running again, recurring), from palin (again) + dromos (running)]

Palindromes make you exult Ah ha! Oh, ho! Hey, yeh!, Yo boy!, Yay!, Wow!, Tut-Tut!, Har-har!Rah-rah!, Heh-heh!, and Hoorah! Har! Ooh! and Ahem! It's time. Ha!

The most famous palindrome is MADAM, IM ADAM (Adam's introduction of himself, in English, of course how convenient to Eve, the mother of all palindromes), but my personal favorite is the wiggy, loopy, lunatic GO HANG A SALAMI. IM A LASAGNA HOG. And let's tip our collective hat to the astonishingly long yet coherent DOC, NOTE, I DISSENT. A FAST NEVER PREVENTS A FATNESS. I DIET ON COD.

I hope you're enjoying this palindromic -- or shall we say, calendromic -- year, the last one you'll ever see! You remember 1991, and MIM and MM -- possible Roman numeral representations of 1999 and 2000 and the last time that Arabic or Roman palindromic years will ever again occur consecutively. Don't hold your breath until the next calendrome. 2112 won't be here for another hundred and ten years.

Close kin to the palindrome is the semordnilap, which is a reverse spelling of palindromes. While a palindromic word (such as civic) conveys the same message left to right and right to left, a semordnilap becomes a new word when spelled in reverse. Examples include decaf/faced, deliver/reviled. In a semordnilap may repose a hidden message:

  • War is raw.
  • Boss is spelled b-o-s-s because your boss is a backward double s.o.b.
  • When you are stressed, you may reach for desserts.
This week's theme: words about wordplay by guest wordsmith Richard Lederer (richard.lederer@pobox.com).


Reading is seeing by proxy. -Herbert Spencer, philosopher (1820-1903)

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