Jack Knox: This Budd’s for you, and he loves a ‘levidrome’

Jack Knox mugshot genericThere’s a gaping void in the dictionary that six-year-old Levi Budd wants to fill — with his own name. 

To do so, the Victoria boy needs your help. 

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Levi, a lad with a love of language, wants his newly coined “levidrome” added to the lexicon to describe a word that, when spelled backward, forms another. Words like spit and tips, for example, or desserts and stressed.

For this is what the St. Michaels University School Grade 2 student has been told: If a term becomes popular, the dictionary will list it. Hence the YouTube video that his family has made, urging viewers to spread the word, as it were.

Levi took to the written word early, learned to read when he was just three years old. When he was four, the Times Colonist ran a photo of him reading a book with his dad, Lucky Budd.

It was around then that Levi noticed the second name of one of his toys, a stuffed serpent called Snakey Bob, could be spelled the same backward and forward. That’s a palindrome, he was told.

Soon Levi spotted other simple palindromes such as “mom” and “dad.” Then he graduated to more complicated ones: “noon” and “level” and — this one caused him to wake up his parents at 4 a.m. — “racecar.”

Then one day when he was five, riding in the family van, Levi glanced at a stop sign. “Mom, I see that ‘stop’ spells ‘pots’ backward. That’s not a palindrome. What do we call words like that?”

Good question, said mom Jessy Friedenberg, let’s look it up when we get home.

Except when they looked, they came up empty. “There was nothing in Webster’s, nothing in Oxford,” says Lucky (real name Rob, but few have ever called him that). Some sources call such words emordnilaps (that’s palindrome backward), but that makes no sense.

So Levi made a proposal: “We should call them levidromes.”

Why not, said his parents, and emailed a pitch to Merriam-Webster, the dictionary publisher.

A reply came within 24 hours. “They said: ‘That’s great, but that’s not how it works,’ ” Lucky says. The dictionary adds words when they come into common usage. If levidrome becomes widely used, it’s in.

So the family made that video, which it wants people to share. Just call up YouTube and search for “levidrome.”

Levi would not be the first person to have his name turned into a common word, of court. Eponyms are ubiquitous. If you spill your sandwich down your cardigan or leotard while drinking pasteurized milk, you might need a hoover.

But eponyms are normally tied to a person for a reason. Irish tenants refused to do business with Charles Boycott when he raised the rent. Nicotine is named for Jean Nicot de Villemain, who brought tobacco home to France from Portugal in the 16th century. Etienne Silhouette was the French finance minister whose name became synonymous with doing things cheaply — such as making cutouts of people’s profiles instead of painting their portraits.

Guess what British artillery officer Henry Shrapnel invented. Ditto for German mechanical engineer Rudolph Diesel. “Sideburns” is a distortion of Burnside, a U.S. Civil War general known for his facial hair. And let’s not forget bushusuru, which Japanese have used as slang for “to vomit” ever since George Bush barfed into the lap of their prime minister at a 1992 banquet.

So, Levi’s link is a tad tenuous. Still, even if the dictionary bid doesn’t work out, this exercise has been valuable in itself, has people thinking about language. “Kids are coming up to Levi at school now,” his dad says. One classmate offered up “part” and “trap” as a levidrome on Friday.

And hey, maybe the video has a shot at success, says Lucky, who, as an oral historian perhaps best known for his Voice of B.C. show on CBC Radio and the books he has done in collaboration with artist Roy Henry Vickers, knows something about language. Maybe in the future, words like straw/warts and dog/god will be known as levidromes.

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