‘A Toyota’s a Toyota’ and a Palindrome

Why does racecar spelled backwards spell racecar

Writing is an enjoyable experience in part because it allows one to express oneself from a comfortable chair without talking loud and waving one’s hands around like a karate instructor at an audience to make a point. In short, some of us focus better writing than speaking because public speaking makes some of us feel as though we’re about to pee on our shoes, pass out or start laughing hysterically for no apparent reason.

Spelling bees and etymology notwithstanding, the letter unit arrangements of common words contain interesting and sometimes fun coincidence. For example, palindromic words are English words that are spelled the same forwards or backwards. Some examples of palindromic words are redivider, noon, civic, radar, level, rotor, kayak, reviver, racecar, redder, madam, and refer. Use of the English language – created in the shadow of Latin – widened in the 15th century and became accepted by the ruling class. Question is, are palindromic words just serendipitous coincidence or part of a grander scheme to make 21st century writers ponder the intentions of century-old wordsmiths. Palindromes also occur in phrase form, some quite lengthy. For example:


“Eva, can I stab bats in a cave?”, “Mr. Owl ate my metal worm”, “Was it a car or a cat I saw?”, “A nut for a jar of tuna”, “Do geese see God?”, “Ma is as selfless as I am”, “On a clover, if alive erupts a vast pure evil, a fire volcano”, “Dammit, I’m mad!”,”Dog, as a devil deified, lived as a god.”, “Not so, Boston.”,”A Toyota‘s a Toyota”, “Go hang a salami, I’m a lasagna hog”, “A Santa lived as a devil at NASA”, and “An igloo! Cool, Gina!”

It’s not hard to imagine some Anglo scholar in 1396 incidentally creating the phrase “Dam it, I’m mad!” which is spelled the same both ways, but it’s really difficult to imagine anyone accidently coming up with, “Go hang a salami, I’m a lasagna hog” as a palindromic phrase -and just as unlikely the phrase “dog, as a devil deified, lived as a god” was created unintentionally. But, who knows?

When a writer stops pondering palindromic words and phrases and is ready to get back to writing his or her best-selling novel, it’s important not to get tripped up by semordnilap, another strange phenomenon of etymology. Semordnilap (palindromes spelled backward) is the name coined for words that spell a different word in reverse. In this case, the spellmaster whom coined the word Semordnilap is documented to be Martin Gardner according to the book Oddities and Curiosities of Words and Literature. An example of semordnilap is the word repaid, which is diaper spelled backward. Eight letter semordnilap include, “stressed” (“desserts”) and “rewarder” (“redrawer,” one who redraws). Other shorter examples are “deliver” (“reviled”), Zeus (“Suez”), and “swap” (“paws”).

In the case of severe insomnia one can delve into Him Semordnilaps, half-palindromes, reversgrams, mynoretehs, or anadromes, however for a small price over-the-counter sleeping pills might be quicker and less painful. Still, it is “never odd or even” unusual to employ palindromic words and phrases in one’s writings. After all, “Rise to vote, sir” was featured in an episode of The Simpsons.

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