Monday, October 27, 2008

Backwards with Palin

This is not a political comment; words are my thing. It’s simply that when I was staring at a headline containing Governor Sarah Palin’s name the other day, I suddenly realized that I was looking at an old Greek root: palin-, meaning backwards.

Depending on the word and its nuances, palin- can signify the opposite of forward, a recapitulation, a retraction, or a revival.

Palindrome is one of the better-known words containing the palin- stem. One traditional form presents a sequence of words that reads, letter for letter, the same backwards as forwards: “A man, a plan, a canal: Panama.” A palindrome is also a piece of music in which the second half is a retrograde repetition of the first half, and a number or date that reads the same in both directions.

Palinal (chiefly found in Zoology) means characterized by or involving backward motion, especially of the lower jaw in chewing.

Palingenesis is defined as regeneration, rebirth, revival, or resuscitation.

Originally, a palinode was an ode or song in which the author retracts a view or sentiment expressed in a former poem.

Palinspastic is a word applied to a map or diagram representing features (especially layers of rock) in what are presumed to be their original positions.

SIDEBAR: palindromes

Now available from McFarland & Co.: Word Parts Dictionary, 2nd edition

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