What’s so special about the phrase Sit on a pan, Otis? It’s an example of a palindrome — a word or phrase that’s spelled the same backwards as it is forwards. This year’s contest known as the Oscars of the palindrome world inspires some clever, even poetic, surprises. Plus, tips for raising a child to be bilingual. And what was the search engine Google called BEFORE it was called Google? Also, spelunking slang, hissy fits, language vs. dialect, persons vs. people, French folds, phthalates, and “I don’t care if it harelips the governor!”

This episode first aired May 9, 2014.

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 Palindromist Press SymmyS Awards
A palindrome is a word or phrase that reads the same both backwards and forwards, like the title of the book Go Hang a Salami! I’m a Lasagna Hog! The SymmyS Awards, bestowed by The Palindromist Magazine are the Oscars of the palindrome world. Recent winners included one called “Espresso Rescue”: Had a tonic? Cuppa cappuccino, ta-dah!

 Bilingual Immersion
Bilingual schools can be great for helping children become bilingual, but the best way to fully get there is through complete immersion over a long period of time.

 Hissy Fits
Hissy fits, or frivolous tantrums often associated with girls, particularly in the Southern United States, probably derive from the word hysterical. An Alabama caller started thinking about the origin of this word after learning of the opening of a nearby store called Hissy Fit Boutique.

 Cold Feet at the Altar Palindrome
Word-unit palindromes are palindromes where all the words read the same back and forth, like this SymmyS winner, titled “Cold Feet at the Altar”: Say I do? What do I do? What do I say?!

 Fixer-Upper Word Game
Our Quiz Guy John Chaneski serenades us with a game of rewritten lyrics for Disney’s Frozen.

 Etymology of Google
Before the search engine Google, there was the word googol. As mathematician Edward Kasner recounts in his book Mathematics and the Imagination, he asked his 9-year-old nephew Milton to coin a word for a huge number, specifically 10 to the 100th power, and that’s what the youngster came up with. A googly, on the other hand, is a type of bowl in cricket.

 Boss vs. Therapist Joke
What’s the difference between your boss and your therapist? Aili Jokela’s word-unit palindrome has the answer.

 Several Persons vs. Several People
Which is correct: several persons or several people? The word persons tends to be used in corporate, legalese contexts, and people is the more natural term.

 Spelunker Slang
A Hollywood entrance, in spelunker slang, is when a cave has a large, epic opening. Burkard Bilger’s epic article in The New Yorker on the world of squeeze freaks and other extreme cavers contains lots of great caving slang.

 Listener Responses for Being Proud
In an earlier episode, we talked about whether it’s condescending to say you’re “proud of someone,” and the majority of you who responded agreed that it’s best to say something that doesn’t make it about you.

 Languages vs. Dialects
The difference between Mandarin and Cantonese points to a general difference between languages and dialects: languages tend to have a whole different nationalism or geopolitical power associated with them. For more about Mandarin and Cantonese in particular, check out the work of linguist Victor Mair on Language Log.

 French Fold
Take a sheet of paper. Fold it in half. Then fold it in half again. That’s called a French fold.

 Words with Ph-Th
Phthalate, a compound in chemistry, got us thinking about other words with ph and th right next to each other.

 Pills Palindrome
Another winning palindrome from the SymmyS: You swallow pills for anxious days and nights. And days, anxious for pills, swallow you.

 Harelips the Queen
I don’t care if it harelips the queen” means “come hell or high water,” or “regardless of the consequences.” The phrase is particularly popular in Texas, as are such variants as harelips the governor, harelips the president, harelips every cow in Texas, harelips the Pope, harelips the nation, and harelips all the cats in Grimes County, among many others. Harelip refers to the congenital deformity known as a cleft palate, which resembles the mouth of a rabbit, and is sometimes considered offensive.

This episode is hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett, and produced by Stefanie Levine.

Photo by Donnie Ray Jones. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Books Mentioned in the Broadcast

Go Hang a Salami! I’m a Lasagna Hog by Jon Agee
Mathematics and the Imagination by Edward Kasner

Music Used in the Broadcast

Title Artist Album Label
Cissy Strut The Meters The Meters Josie Records
Here’s Comes The Meter Man The Meters The Meters Josie Records
Layin’ Low Sure Fire Soul Ensemble Layin’ Low Timeless Takeover
Cardova The Meters The Meters Josie Records
Live Wire The Meters The Meters Josie Records
Sophisticated Sissy The Meters The Meters Josie Records
IB Struttin’ Sure Fire Soul Ensemble Layin’ Low Timeless Takeover
Ease Back The Meters The Meters Josie Records
Art The Meters The Meters Josie Records
Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off Ella Fitzgerald Ella Fitzgerald Ella Fitzgerald Sings The George and Ira Gershwin Song Book Verve