So, is it “Dad” or “Dad”?

Posted September 15, 2011 by jimhigley

There’s a scene in the movie, Valentine’s Day, where a grandfather is driving in the car with his young grandson. They are discussing the girl problems that have been weighing heavy on the boy’s mind. Trying to break the stress in the air, the grandfather points to a street sign at the intersection they are stopped at and asks his grandson if he knows what the name of the street is if you spelled it backwards. The street was “Moorpark” Road. The kid gets the joke. The tension is broken. And the audience laughs.

But, I’m thinking, “Hey, that was my dad’s trick!”

I grew up in the 1960′s and 1970′s, long before there were I-Pods to plug into while sitting in the car with a parent. I also spent a lot of time in the passenger seat with my father driving the 51 miles from our house in a small, Nebraska town to Lincoln, where one of my older brothers lived.

I can’t read in the car. If I attempt to I feel like I’m on a transatlantic voyage on the Queen Mary. In a hurricane. So during those sixty minute trips to Lincoln with my dad, I’d have to either talk, sit quietly, or listen to his selections of radio stations. AM. Not FM.

I opted, much of the time to say nothing. But that never stopped my dad from tossing out a joke, an observation about the height of cornstalks, the fast approaching storm, or the mechanics of a new irrigation system he’d point out in one of the fields along the way.

But, his favorite conversation starter was to pronounce words backwards. It might be the name on the truck in front of us. Or it could be some word he heard on the radio. And, it was always the name of one of the four little towns we’d drive through. Cedar Bluff, Wahoo, Colon (I swear), and, his favorite, Ceresco.

“You know what Ceresco spells backwards?” he’d ask every time we passed through. There was nothing funny about this other than the fact that he asked it every, single time we drove sped past this town boasting 857 people.

The technical name for what my dad liked was “semordnilap,” which is the term for a word that spells a different word backwards. He also liked “palindromes,” words that spell the same thing backwards or forward. Like “racecar” or “level.” But those were kind of easy. (By the way, check out what “semordnilap” spells backwards!)

“Know what straw spells backwards,” he’s ask me.

“Dad, stop!”

“How about diaper?”



He was relentless. But, in retrospect, very entertaining.

It’s funny, I find myself on a daily basis seeing words and automatically figuring out what they spell backwards. Usually in the car, with my own kids who have tuned me out with their I-Pods. They don’t know the fun they are missing.

You would have enjoyed knowing my dad. He could make sense of things that didn’t make sense. He looked at life from different perspectives. And, if nothing else, he could always be counted on for a good laugh. He was also a palindrome himself.

You’re thinking “dad,” right?

Nope. His name was Bob.

  • daniel pelfrey

    Now I need to go look up semordnilap and see if it is a real word.

    • Jim Higley

      Daniel – I promise. I wouldn’t lie! Thanks for reading!