Words That are Their Own Palindromes

There are only 400+ possible syllables in Chinese. That makes listening comprehension (both for me and the person I’m talking to) a bit of a nightmare. But despite the many downsides, there are actually some fun things about a syllabic language.

Besides how amazingly easy it is to rhyme in Chinese, it’s fun that the language allows for syllabic palindromes (i.e. reading the hanzi forwards and backwards, not the individual letters in the pinyin).

Even some individual words can be read forward and backward and mean the same thing (if one seems more common to me it appears in bold). If you can rattle off this list to your Chinese friends it will be just as impressive as saying the “4 is 4, 10 is 10” tongue twister to a Southern China native!

Isn’t that wild!?

Does anyone know of any others? Share, share!

Can anyone think of any in English? I don’t mean like “pop.” I mean a two WORD palindrome where “paper doll” and “doll paper” mean the same thing (they don’t, of course, that’s why that one doesn’t count). It seems like I thought of a two-word English one once but it might have been when I was just about to fall asleep and I didn’t write it down but if I had it would have seemed really stupid the next morning anyway. You know what I mean.

Comments

  1. Words that can be switched in English but still have the same meaning happen often with verb/adverb combinations, i.e. “quickly ran” and “ran quickly.”

  2. Anna,
    Yes! I was trying to remember huxiang and xianghu. Thanks for that and the others.

    Thewatcher,
    Zhen qiao indeed! It’s amazing how often little things like that happen (for example, a friend of mine is haunted by how often the word “emu” comes up in his life).

    Sarah,
    You’re right, adverbs can go almost anywhere in English (I love that). Maybe that’s what I was thinking of, but it seems like it was some sort of compound word…Oh well.

    Joe,
    That’s brilliant! Finally an English palindrome I can remember.

    kencanau,
    I’ve bolded them in the list appropriately. Thanks!

    Helen,
    Thanks for the two examples. I suppose there’s another topic: “Words that have very different meanings forwards and backwards” (like 蜜蜂 and 蜂蜜).

  3. 合适[héshì]/适合[shìhé] – suitable; proper, appropriate

    讲演[jiǎngyǎn]/演讲[yǎnjiǎng]– a lecture/to hold a lecture

    代替[dàitì]/替代[tìdài] – to replace

    负担[fùdān]/担负[dānfù] – to be responsible for; burden

    来往[láiwǎng]/往来[wǎnglái] – to come and to go; contacts; relationship

    空虚[kōngxū]/虚空[xūkōng] – empty

    要紧[jǐnyào]/紧要[yàojǐn] – important

    迁移[qiānyí]/移迁[yíqiān] – to move to another place to live, to migrate

    阻拦[zǔlán]/拦阻[lánzǔ] – to block; to keep long, to delay

    兄弟[xiōngdì]/弟兄[xiōngdì] – brothers

    彩色[sècǎi]/色彩[cǎisè] – colour /colourful

    进行[jìnxíng]/行进[xíngjìn] – to realize /to go ahead

    书写[shūxiě]/写书[xiěshū]– writing/ to write a book

    力量[lìliang]/量力[liànglì] – force; power; effect / to the best of one’s ability

    前面[qiánmian]/面前[miànqián] – in front of /in the face of

    车马[chēmǎ]/马车[mǎchē] – street transport/a horse-drawn vehicle

    民军[mínjūn]/军民[jūnmín] – people’s army, people’s emergency volunteer corps/army & people

    展开[zhǎnkāi]/开展[kāizhǎn] – to open/to expand, to extend; highly-developed; leading

    法语[fǎyǔ]/语法[yǔfǎ] – French languahe/ a grammar

  4. @Anna,
    Thanks for that extensive list! I guess after

    彩色[sècǎi]/色彩[cǎisè] – colour /colourful

    then we get into words that still have meanings when read backwards, but the meanings are different. Those are good to be aware of but I’m always sure I’ll mess them up.

    @Phil,
    I guess yours would fall into that category also where the words still have meaning, but the two meanings are not equal.

  5. bystand and stand by

    Although I guess bystand isn’t technically a word without the -er, I have heard it used as a verb.

  6. here are some new examples that I found while checking Chinese dictionary:
    白银[bái yín] /银白[yín bái] – silver/silver white colour
    黄金[huáng jīn] /金黄[jīn huáng] – gold/ golden yellow colour
    黄土[huáng tǔ] /土黄 [tǔ huáng] – loess (yellow sandy soil typical of north China), aeolian soil/sallow, pale colour
    黄蜡[huáng là] /蜡黄 [là huáng] – yellow wax/wax-white colour, waxen
    绿豆[lǜ dòu] /豆绿[dòu lǜ] – mung bean; golden gram, green gram/pea-green
    火炉[huǒ lú] /炉火 [lú huǒ] – oven, stove/ fire in the oven, fire of a stove
    人工[rén gōng] /工人 [gōng rén] – human labour, artificial / manpower / manual work /a worker, a workman
    工农[gōng nóng] /农工 [nóng gōng] – workers and peasants/ agricultural worker / abbr. for 农业工人 / peasant and worker (in Marxism)
    刷牙[shuā yá] /牙刷 [yá shuā] – to clean teeth, to brush teeth/toothbrush
    油菜[yóu cài] /菜油 [cài yóu] – oilseed rape (bot.)/rapeseed oil, canola oil
    橱柜[chú guì] /柜橱 [guì chú] – cupboard
    寻找[xún zhǎo] /找寻 [zhǎo xún] – to seek, to look for
    动手[dòng shǒu] /手动 [shǒu dòng] – to set about (a task) , to hit , to punch , to touch / manual , manually operated , manual gear-change
    动感[dòng gǎn] /感动 [gǎn dòng] – innervation, dynamism /to move (sb) , to touch (sb emotionally) , moving
    乱动[dòng luàn] /动乱 [luàn dòng] – to fiddle with, to tamper with, to meddle with, to move randomly, to flail abou t /turmoil, upheaval, unrest
    糖果[táng guǒ] /果糖 [guǒ táng] – candy/fructose
    运转[yùn zhuǎn] /转运 [zhuǎn yùn] – to work. to operate, to revolve, to turn around /to forward goods, to ship, to distribute, transshipment, a lucky break, change of fortune (for the better)
    命运[mìng yùn] /运命 [yùn mìng] – fate, destiny /fate, one’s fortune
    运输[yùn shū] /输运 [shū yùn] – transport, haulage, transit /to transport, transportation

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *