Thursday 30 July 2009



A concept closely related with palindromes is the semordnilap. 

Notice that it's palindrome, reversed? While a palindrome is identical either way, a semordnilap spells another meaningful but different text when reversed.

Such as:

This term is apparently a new coinage as my Chambers 2000 doesn't list it, but it gets plenty of hits on the web.

So, a whole reversal clue is based on a semordnilap. Here's a nice recent one:

Guardian 24672 (Rufus): Retired don is still in bed (3, 2)
The answer is NOT UP, the reverse of PUT ON.

I've talked about reversal clues in detail here: the Reversal Clue Type.


  • Some semordnilaps are not coincidental, the term yob was reputedly coined specifically as a reverse spelling of the word boy.

  • The reverse spelling of Mr. Mxyzptlk has a powerful role to play in Superman comics. If the supervillain said or spelled Kltpzyxm (i.e. his name backwards), he was involuntarily sent back to the fifth dimension for at least 90 days. Superman should be glad the supervillain did not have a palindromic name.

  • The magic Mirror Of Erised in the Harry Potter books, which shows "not your face but your heart's desire", aptly takes its name from the reflection of "desire".

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Chaturvasi said...


I hate this coinage which is so unpronounceable. (BTW, what is the singular of this?) And, thank god, I have never come across this monstrosity before.

We need to go to D. St. P. Barnard, author of Anatomy of the Crossword, for a term that means "a word like MUG or TAB which, when read backwards produces another word - in these instances GUM and BAT respectively" (p. 80)

His suggestion is Anadrome.

In a lengthy footnote he explains the reasoning behind the coinage but I shall be brief: Gr. ana = back + dromos = running.

Shuchi said...

:) Reminds me of your dislike of the word "cruciverbalism".

Interestingly, the origin of "semordnilap" has contradictory explanations at different sources.

Wikipedia says:
"According to author O.V. Michaelsen, it was probably coined by logologist Dmitri A. Borgmann and appeared in Oddities and Curiosities, annotated by Martin Gardner, 1961."

Wiktionary says:
"Macmillan [1] suggest that British author Michael Quinion may have been among the first to use the word, in May 2000. "

Anagrams FAQ and a number of other sites attribute the word to Lewis Carroll. Reverse spellings are also called antigrams, apparently.

Anonymous said...

When looked at 'Semordnilap', couldn't pronounced it. Then realized it's 'palindromes' reversed. Unlike 'aibohphobia', it isn't at all creative.

I will try one:
Hold back the preview (4)

Shuchi said...

Hold back the preview (4) KEEP / PEEK

Ring returned to shared fund (4)

Anonymous said...


Boomerang means booty (4)

Anonymous said...

Forgot to add the question mark.
Boomerang means booty? (4)

Shuchi said...

Boomerang means booty? (4) TOOL / LOOT?

Anonymous said...

Yes, that's what I had in mind.