fb-pixel Skip to main content
IDEAS

May I have a word: Two challenges, one column!

Readers get an extension on a hunt for one coinage and have their work cut out for them with a new one.

Might a penchant for palindromes be in our DNA?Adobe

To my astonishment, some readers seem to have prioritized enjoying the Fourth of July weekend over sitting home coining coinages to meet my most recent challenge. Readers were still sending me their words well past the deadline. I like some of what came in a lot, but I’m not ready to award bragging rights until I have more options to choose from.

So I’m giving you another week to respond to that challenge: “What is a word for a person, or thing, or solution you have been desperately seeking only to discover that they, or it, has been under your nose all along?” Example: Signing up for a matchmaking service that matches you 100 percent with your next-door neighbor.

Advertisement



And now I’ll give you a second challenge, too. Jim Murphy, of Newton, asks: “Why is there no word for palindrome that is itself a palindrome? It seems to me there should be one.”

A palindrome, as we all know, is something that reads the same forward and backward. It can be a number, like the date 2/20/2022; it can be music, such as the third movement of Haydn’s Symphony No. 47; it can even be a genetic sequence.

But most palindromes consist of words. There are single-word palindromes, like civic and kayak and rotor. And there are phrases and sentences, in which case capitalization, punctuation, and where words begin and end are usually disregarded. “Madam, I’m Adam” is a well-known example.

A palindrome that has at least the spaces in the right places in both directions is “Step on no pets.” An example of a “sentence-form” palindrome is “Did I say you never say never? You say I did.” All 38 lines of the lyrics to “Weird Al” Yankovic’s song “Bob” are palindromes, and the conclusion goes like this: “God, a red nugget, a fat egg under a dog / Go hang a salami, I’m a lasagna hog.” Demetri Martin’s palindromic poem “Dammit I’m mad” runs to 224 words.

Advertisement



But back to Jim’s question: As it happens, Robert Maier of Southfield, Mich., presented a candidate word in 1995 in Word Ways: The Journal of Recreational Linguistics.

Maier wrote: “A concept as exquisite as palindromy deserves to have a name that is palindromic. In keeping with the spirit of the etymology, but adding the requirement of its being what it describes, we could do a lot worse than palinilap, from the Greek palin (again) and nilap (spelled backwards).”

Maier went a few steps further, shrewdly observing that the plural of palinilap needs to be spalinilaps if it’s going to remain a palindrome. And “the adjectival form is lapalinilapal, the adverbial form is yllapalinilapally,” and if for some reason you want to make a verb out of this farrago, “the infinitive is etapalinilapate, which is conjugated as ‘I etapalinilapate,’ ‘you etapalinilapate,’ ‘he/she/it setapalinilapates.’”

Palinilap and spalinilaps actually have carved out a niche for themselves; you can find them in such places as Urban Dictionary and Reddit. And by the way, semordnilap has found a niche too. This term designates a word, such as stressed, that becomes a different legit word, such as desserts, when spelled backward. But, let’s face it, all of these are a nightmare to spell, and their meaning is opaque unless you know the backstory.

Advertisement



Can’t we do better? Could you please come up with a palindromic name for a palindrome — preferably one that solves the plural problem?

Send your ideas for this term or the “under your nose” one — or both — to me at Barbara.Wallraff@globe.com by noon on Friday, July 22, and kindly include where you live. Responses may be edited.

Barbara Wallraff is a writer who lives in Cambridge, Mass., and London.