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A palindromic question


A type of word play in which a word, phrase, or sentence reads the same backward or forward--such as Madam, I'm Adam. Adjective: palindromic.

Semordnilaps (the word palindromes in reverse) are words that spell other words when spelled backwards (for example, star/rats, drawer/reward).

Aibohphobia is the palindromic term for an irrational fear of palindromes.

See also:


From the Greek, "running back again"

Examples and Observations:

  • pop

  • "tattarrattat"
    (James Joyce, Ulysses, 1922)

  • Wassamassaw
    (from an American Indian name for "water," a swamp outside of Summerville, South Carolina)

  • A man, a plan, a canal--Panama!

  • Able was I ere I saw Elba.

  • Too bad--I hid a boot.

  • Do geese see God?

  • Murder for a jar of red rum.

  • Drab as a fool, aloof as a bard.

  • Go deliver a dare, vile dog!

  • [Caption below a cartoon of a family sitting around a dinner table; the boy is speaking]
    "Mom, Dad, sis--I'm not like you--I'm not a palindrome."
    (Paul Karasik, The New Yorker, January 21, 2013)

  • Norma is as selfless as I am, Ron.
    (attributed to poet W.H. Auden)

  • Gateman sees name, garageman sees name tag.

  • Some men interpret nine memos.

  • "Go Hang a Salami! I'm a Lasagna Hog!"
    (title of a book on palindromes by Jon Agee, 1991)

  • "Doc: note, I dissent. A fast never prevents a fatness. I diet on cod."
    (James Michie, New Statesman, May 5, 1967)

  • "Once you notice that 'decaf' backward is 'faced,' it is but the work of a moment to invent the indignant complaint of a coffee drinker confronting the absence of regular coffee: 'I faced decaf! I!!' The same process yields a tailor's cranky opinion ('Knits stink!') and a travel agent's apology to a volcanologist: 'Avalon? No lava . . .'"
    (Ellis Weiner, "Mind Games." Smithsonian, April 2008)

  • "T.S. Eliot, top bard, notes putrid tang emanating, is sad. I'd assign it a name: gnat dirt upset on drab pot-toilet."
    (Alastair Reid)

  • Are we not drawn onward, we few, drawn onward to new era?

  • The Longest Palindromes
    "Malayalam, the native tongue of the people of Kerala, is the longest palindromic language-name. The credit of the longest palindromic place-name goes to Kanakanak, which is near Dillingham, Alaska, USA. The 19-letter Finnish word saippuakivikauppias, meaning 'a dealer in caustic soda,' is the longest known palindromic word. . . .

    "The first palindromic sentence in English appeared in 1614:
    Lewd did I live & evil I did dwel."
    (O.Abootty, The Funny Side of English. Pustak Mahal, 2002)

  • The Language of Magic
    "For the most part finding palindromic words or composing palindromic phrases and sentences is a form of light entertainment. Some devotees display great ingenuity in finding long palindromes covering more than one sentence. In the past, however, palindromes have figured in the language of magic, and many have taken reversibility to be significant."
    (Barry J. Blake, Secret Language. Oxford Univ. Press, 2010)

  • Dylan Thomas's Semordnilap
    "The first minister chuckled as he pointed out how [Dylan] Thomas's fictional village in Under Milk Wood--Llareggub--spelled out something rather rude backwards. 'That shows the devilment of the man.'"
    (Steven Morris, "Dylan Thomas Centenary: South Wales Gets Ready to Welcome the World." The Guardian [UK], January 5, 2014)
Pronunciation: PAL-in-drome
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