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9 words created by spelling other words backwards
Fancy some "semordnilaps"?
 
Oprah is quite fond of her name.
Oprah is quite fond of her name. (Timothy Hiatt/Getty Images)

"Semordnilap" is a word playfully coined by word-game lovers some time in the mid 20th century. While a palindrome reads the same way backwards or forwards (otto, kayak), a semordnilap (itself a semordnilap of "palindromes") makes a completely different word when spelled backwards. While there are some semordnilaps that arose by chance (desserts-stressed, diaper-repaid), there are many, like "semordnilap," that were created on purpose, usually to not-so-covertly hint at the words they happen to be reversing. Here are nine words, besides semordnilap, expressly built to be semordnilaps.

1. YENSID

The name of the sorcerer in Fantasia is "Disney" spelled backwards. The animators modeled the character after Walt Disney himself.

2. HARPO

Oprah has a magazine titled by her first initial (O), a network named with both her initials (OWN – The Oprah Winfrey Network), and a production company that spells her name backwards (Harpo). Her next project will have to be an anagram (Pharo?).

3. NACIREMA

A 1956 anthropology paper by Horace Mitchell Miner examined "body ritual among the Nacirema," an exotic tribe in North America. Their culture was founded by a hero named Notgnihsaw, who, in a feat of strength, once threw a piece of wampum over the Pa-To-Mac river. The Nacirema ("American" backwards) have become well known for what they tell us about the study of "exotic" cultures.

4. EREWHON

Backwards spelling in the name of satire has a long history. The title of Samuel Butler's 19th century novel lampooning the society of the time was meant to be "nowhere" spelled backwards, but the "h" was moved out of place. It features properly backwards-named characters like Yram (Mary) and Senoj Nosnibor (Robinson Jones).

5. YOB

"Boy" in reverse. British slang for a young man who is up to no good.

6. SILOPANNA

Sometimes, when you're naming streets, you just run out of ideas. In Annapolis, Maryland, there's a little street called Silopanna Road. There's also a big Annapolis summer music festival called Silopanna.

7. RETSOF

The little hamlet of Retsof, New York was named for William Foster, owner of a salt mine company there. Retsof is now best known for a 1994 salt mine collapse.

8. LLAREGGUB

The Dylan Thomas play Under Milk Wood was set in a Welsh village with a Welsh-looking name, Llareggub. In fact, it was not a Welsh name at all, but "bugger all" backwards.

9. SERUTAN

In the old days, companies had to be discreet and a little coy in ads for constipation remedies. Serutan's tagline asked customers to "read it backwards," emphasizing that their product was the natural way to "provide peristaltic stimulation."

 
Arika Okrent is editor-at-large at TheWeek.com and a frequent contributor to Mental Floss. She is the author of In the Land of Invented Languages, a history of the attempt to build a better language. She holds a doctorate in linguistics and a first-level certification in Klingon.

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