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Definition: Semordnilap comes from the reversal of the word palindrome; yet its meaning is slightly different than that of palindrome.  Where palindrome refers to a word or phrase that is spelled the same forward as it is backwards, a semordnilap spells a different word each way.  For example, in the above picture step reversed is pets, time reversed is emit.

Pronunciation: Sehm-oard-nih-lap


While the concept behind the word semordnilap and various examples of it seem to have been around for quite some time, the first documented use appears to be attributable to Dmitri Borgmann as cited by Martin Gardener in Charles Carroll Bombaughs’ 1961 reprinted work Oddities and Curiosities of Words and Literature.  Many online sources cite Lewis Carroll as the originator of the word, yet there is no proof of that.

Why this word?

Why not this word?  I’ve always been intrigued by palindromes but have only recently discovered this twist on the old favorite.  It’s a great mental exercise and a fun way to improve your spelling.

How to use the word semordnilap in a sentence?

“The semordnilap he created as a clue for the treasure hunt left everyone stumped since, to the best of their knowledge, it did not spell out a recognizable word.”

“May the reviled deliver dessert to the stressed.”  (Contains 2 pairs of semordnilaps)

“When the warder falls to sleep, we can redraw the dial on which we laid the peels.” (contains 3 pairs of semordnilaps)


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Written by Kate Fulton

Kate Fulton has a bachelor’s degree in classics and psychology from the University of Massachusetts and is working on a library science degree from Simmons College. She has always been fascinated by words- their usage, spelling, and etymology. Kate may be one of the few people who enjoyed the verbal section of the SAT. Yes, she is a word geek. Currently she bores her husband and young daughter with her love of vocabulary.


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