Zeugma: telling stories and jokes

You’d be forgiven for thinking we’ve strayed off the topic of the English language as we introduce the topic of zeugma (zyoog-ma). Actually, the term comes from the Greek for “yoking” or “bonding”, and it refers to a literary device whereby a single word – usually a verb or adjective – applies to more than one noun, thereby joining together ideas that are logically and grammatically different.

Or, if you’d like a technical dictionary definition: “A construction in which one word or phrase is understood to fill a parallel syntactic role in two or more clauses or phrases“. Continue reading

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