A palindrome, as several of you may know, is something that reads the same backwards and forwards (such as Madam, I'm Adam). But where does the word palindrome originate from? Well, in the 1600s, Ben Johnson coined it in one of his plays. Like Shakespeare did with most of his"created" words, Johnson didn't just make it up; rather, he "borrowed" a word from Ancient Greek. Here it was palindromos, which literally meant "running back again", describing the quality of palindromes to read both ways, obviously. This is a portmanteau of two words: palin, which meant both "back" and "again", oddly enough, and drome, that same element in dromedary, hippodrome, and syndrome, which meant "race" or "running". So a palindrome is a "running back". Respectively, the two parts come from the Proto-Indo-European root kwel (meaning "revolve") and the Proto-Indo-European root drem (meaning "run"). Interestingly, palindrome has become the etymon of another word that is just beginning to be recognized, semordnilap, which means something that makes sense written backwards. Kind of like a one-sided palindrome, but not this side. Edis rehto eht.
Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic, a senior studying government and linguistics at Harvard University, where I co-founded the Harvard Undergraduate Linguistics Society. In addition to etymology, I also really enjoy trivia, politics, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, art history, and law.