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National Editorials & Columns

There's a word for everything!

Q: A word or phrase that reads the same forward or backward is a palindrome — racecar, kayak and level are examples. What is the term for a word or phrase that spells different words or phrases forward and backward? An example would be "evil," which spells "live" in reverse. — N.H.J., Stuart, Fla.

A: There are several terms that would fit, but my favorite is the word "semordnilap," which is itself a semordnilap of "palindromes." Another example is "desserts" and "stressed."

Q: If I had a fear of overworking, what would I have? — W.E., Mays Landing, N.J.
A: A fear of working to exhaustion is called "ponophobia."

Q: If you are a native of Galway, Ireland, what are you called? — L.M., Troy, N.Y.
A: You are called a Galwegian.

Q: Prior to World War II, what was World War I known as? — W.L., Syracuse, N.Y.
A: The war had several names, including the Great War, the War to End All Wars or the World War. I am sure there were other names, but these seem to be the most popular.

DID YOU KNOW? In car design circles, a hood ornament is properly called a "mascot."

Q: What is the origin of the term "goody two-shoes"? — D.K., Sebewaing, Mich.

A: Goody Two-Shoes is a character in a nursery tale, "The History of Little Goody Two-Shoes," which was first published in 1765. There are many questions about the author, but the most common suggestion is Irish writer and physician Oliver Goldsmith.

In the tale, orphan Margery Meanwell has only one shoe. She is described as being virtuous and hardworking, which leads her to gain a full set of shoes. She is so excited, she frequently brings up her two shoes, which gives her the nickname "Goody Two-Shoes." Meanwell becomes a teacher and marries a wealthy widower. The moral of the story is that hard work pays off.

"The History of Little Goody Two-Shoes" is said to be a retelling of the Cinderella fairy tale.

Q: What is the name for a novel that depicts actual famous people thinly disguised as fictional characters? — G.C., Schuylkill Haven, Pa.

A: The term is "roman a clef," which is French for "novel with a key." The novel "All the King's Men" by Robert Penn Warren, about Louisiana governor and senator Huey Long, is such a novel. Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ernest Hemingway, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Sylvia Plath, Bret Easton Ellis and many other authors use the technique.

"Roman a clef" is pronounced, "ro-MAN a clay."

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