During this Season of Discontent, We Need a New Word for “Palindrome”!

Wow, U.S. campuses are in flames, it looks like 1968, Americans are at each other’s throats, and the world is one Gravrilo Princip away from a new World War. A rabbi writes that we need a Passover-style reconciliation to settle our disputes. But settling disputes the “Passover way,” which involves drowning your enemies after killing their children, seems like a bad idea. 

So instead, let’s focus on something we can all agree on, choosing a new word for “palindrome.”

Why Are We Thinking About This Now? 

A palindrome is a word, sentence or number that is the same whether it is written forwards or backwards. 

For example, racecar and radar are words that are palindromes. “A man, a plan, a canal: Panama” is a sentence palindrome. So is “Was it a car or a cat I saw?” and “Never odd or even.” 

This year, founding editor Steven S. Drachman’s birthday (4-20-2024, or 4-20-24) was a palindrome. And it got us thinking. 

Why do we need a new word for palindrome? 

The term “palindrome” was introduced by the English poet and writer Henry Peacham in 1638. The word itself is derived from Greek roots: Palin, meaning “again” or “back,” and dromos, which translates to “way” or “direction.”

In Greek, a different word — pronounced as “karkinikós” — is used to refer to letter-by-letter reversible writing, which literally means “crab-like.” 

However, while the word “palindrome” eloquently captures the essence of this linguistic phenomenon, it doesn’t exhibit the property it describes. In other words, “palindrome” backwards is not “palindrome.” 

It is (or can be, depending on how one writes it) a “dual ambigram,” which can be read the same mirrored, as well as rotated 180 degrees. This is cooler, in a way, although more subjective, since ambigrams take a bit of nudging to fall into place. 

Ambigrams are often described as “graphic palindromes.” And the word “ambigram” is itself an ambigram.

But still, even if palindrome is (conditionally) a graphic palindrome, it’s not a linear (i.e., literal) palindrome. 

This annoys a lot of people, and has led to the creation of a new word in the English language: emordnilap, which means “a word that reads as another word when spelled backward.” 

You see? “Emordnilap” is an emordnilap, since backwards it spells “palindrome.” So “emordnilap” itself pokes the word “palindrome,” which is not a palindrome. (“Semordnilap,” by the way, is the plural form of “emordnilap.”) 

A Better Choice 

So to avoid more conflict in today’s conflict heavy world, we thought, why not come up with a new and better words to replace “palindrome”? Why not give everyone a little good news for a change?

You could easily make up a new, elegant sounding word that is a palindrome to mean palindrome. 

Eradadarë, for example, or scalalacs, both of which sound and look nice.

Anyone can invent an infinite number of words that are pretty to look at and say, and which are palindromes. 

But almost none of them could legitimately replace the word palindrome itself. Because palindrome is so descriptive; while deceptive, it’s genuinely derived from roots in an ancient language. So a nonsense word would not do the trick as an adequate replacement. 

So we considered “karkinikóssókinikrak,” which is the original Greek word for “palindrome” spelled forwards and then backwards, but it’s too burdensome, and running the same word forwards and then backwards seems like cheating.

Instead, while not elegant, the word “rotator” would work. It is a palindrome itself, and it means something that doubles back on itself, so it’s pretty much perfect. And in the future, people would stop confusing “palindrome” and “palimpsest,” another beautiful word that doesn’t describe what it is.

Palindrome City

What to do with the word palindrome? 

But palindrome is a nice-sounding word; it is fun to say, it sounds poetic, and it makes the speaker seem smart when they say it. So it needs a new definition, just so we can keep this beautiful word in use. 

How about this: 

Palindrome: a word that is itself the opposite of its definition. 

So this would be a winking reference to palindrome’s prior existence as a non-palindrome. 

It’s also a word that doesn’t yet have an equivalent in the English language, so it would be valuable. 

What words would then be palindromes? “Big” for example, which is a very small word. Or “infinitesimal,” a long word that means “very small.” The theory of relativity itself would be a palindrome.

In this season of our discontent, this is something everyone can get behind, from the college kids in their tent cities at Columbia to the college kids in their tent cities at NYU, from the college kids in their tent cities at UCLA to the college kids in their tent cities at Yale. 

Just kidding

OK, we don’t really want a new word to replace palindrome. 

But, jeez, we just wanted to talk about something other than the death of OJ, antisemitism, Donald Trump having sex with a porn star (that one, we wanted to stop picturing, too), and other, worse things going on in the world, which we don’t even want to mention. 

Instead of palindromes, what we really want to talk about is our style guide. We don’t use the “Oxford comma” at Oblivioni Magazine. We want to tell you why. Maybe you will stop using it, too. 

But you know, the “Oxford comma” is such a divisive subject, it’s a weird litmus test for so many awful, bullheaded people, it’s like the anti-Zionism of punctuation marks. 

So we’re not going to touch that one, not in today’s heated climate. 


Images: “Palindromes” and “Palindrome City” by Kalyee Srithnam.

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