Palindromes: Won’t I panic in a pit now?

Linguistically speaking, a palindrome is a word or phrase that reads the same backwards as it does forwards. You’re probably familiar with character-unit palindromes, where the individual letters are reversed, but there is also such a thing as word-unit palindromes, where the word order is reversed; and even line-level palindromes. More about those later.

Palindromes crop up in numbers, science and music, too, but since this is a site devoted to the English language, I’m not going to spend any more time talking about those.

Character-unit palindromes

Many of the words we use every day in English are palindromes. Civic, deed, level, madam, noon, peep, racecar, radar, refer and reviver are all examples.

You can only have so much fun with single words, though. More popular among palindrome lovers (or ‘elihphiles’, as they like to call themselves, although it doesn’t work so well as a plural) are full sentences where the letters can be reversed to spell the same thing. Continue reading

What’s what and when’s when

Contronyms: In Self-Opposition

You’re probably familiar with the terms ‘antonym’ (a word that means the opposite of another word, e.g. ‘hot’ and ‘cold’) and ‘synonym’ (a word that has a similar meaning to another, e.g. ‘philanthropic’ and ‘benevolent’); but how about the term ‘contronym’?

Also known as an auto-antonym, a contronym (or contranym) is a category of word with different meanings which, depending on the context, can seem contradictory. This makes contronyms a kind of homograph – words that are spelled the same but not necessarily pronounced the same, and have different meanings (if you haven’t read our full post about homophones and homographs, check it out here).
Example: An acquaintance of mine with a plumbing business in Plymouth was explaining to a customer how to ‘plumb-in a kitchen’.  The customer’s 12 year old son appeared 10 minutes later out of breath saying i have searched everywhere and there are no plumbs in the kitchen. Continue reading