B: Draws Cab

There are plenty of words which turn into other words when spelled backward. (No, not when spelled "backward," smart-aleck. When the order of the letters is reversed, okay?) "Straw" turns into "warts," "mart" into "tram," "room" into "moor," "reward" into "drawer." More unusual—or at least less commonly discussed—are words I call "switchbacks": words which turn […]

A: Now I Know My (Reader Comments and Addenda)

Thida Cornes, Sarah Liberman, and I went tripping, and we took acid, beanies, coke, downers, ecstasy (and ethanol), flying ointment, ganja (and glue), Haldol (and horse, and heroin), incense, junk, lithium (and LSD), marijuana, nicotine, opium, PCP, quaaludes, rum, sinsemilla (and smack), tea, uppers, Vivarin (and Valium), willow bark, X, and yerba buena. zowie! (I'm […]

A: Now I Know My

When airplane pilots and military personnel need to refer to letters of the alphabet, they use the NATO phonetic alphabet. In this system there's a word for each letter, to avoid confusion among letters whose names sound similar (especially over a noisy radio): Alpha Bravo Charlie Delta Echo Foxtrot Golf Hotel India Juliet Kilo Lima […]

z: Time and the Mailman (Reader Comments)

Jim Moskowitz suggests "He missed his wife and the train." Pierre Abbat contributes a Biblical quotation: "Eutychus fell asleep from a third story window." (Acts 20:9) He adds: "By the way, the plural of zeugma is zeugmata, not zeugmae. Nouns ending in -ma in Greek, -men in Latin, -mya in Russian, and -man in Sanskrit […]

z: Time and the Mailman

"Zeugma" is one of my favorite words. It would probably be my very favorite word if only it were pronounced /'zOig m@/ (as I assumed when I first saw it) instead of /'zug m@/, a pronunciation that seems boring compared to the spelling. (For a pronunciation key, see column k or the ASCII IPA page.) […]

y: Secret Yets

A "secret yet" is a short phrase or riddle involving a pun, in which the punning word has been replaced by a synonym (and is therefore no longer a pun). They're funny in an odd sort of way—they seem completely mundane, or incomprehensible, until you realize that they used to be puns, that they're sort […]

x: Alalaes Ululient

About two months ago, my email yielded up the best Gilbert & Sullivan filk/parody I've ever encountered. Fortunately, one doesn't need to know much about the television series Xena: Warrior Princess to appreciate the dazzling wordplay and wit here; like all the best modern productions of Gilbert & Sullivan, this piece contains extensive footnotes explaining […]

w: They Call the Wind Maria

Some of the loveliest and most interesting words I know are wind-related words, from the hot humid desert-born sirocco to the gentle susurrus of the zephyr. We've gained quite a few such words from roots in other languages; people all over the world have names for their winds. The word "zephyr," for instance, comes from […]