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  • Paul Anthony Jones


(n., 1.) the mythological king of Mycenae, brother of Menelaus; (2) a 9-letter word built from three consecutive 3-letter palindromes

A curious bit of wordplay cropped up on HH this week: an Agamemnon word is one built from three sets of palindromic letters, like AGA–MEM–NON:

Agamemnon was a king of Mycenae and the leader of the Greeks during the Trojan War. The origin of his name is something of a mystery, with one theory claiming that it might mean something like “well-thinking” or “well-advised”, another that it represents something along the lines of “ruling mightily” or “powerfully”, and yet another that should be interpreted as “very steadfast”, or “resolute in power”.

side of a greek vase showing king agamemnon

No matter its etymology however, all we’re interested in here it the name’s letter-by-letter composition. Agamemnon can be divided up into the three palindromic trios—hence all words that are built in this way are known as Agamemnon words.

Over on Twitter, that fact led to much debate about whether there are any more examples of this particular linguistic quirk. Surely Agamemnon doesn’t rule this group alone?

Well, the term Agamemnon word was coined in 1980 by wordplay aficionado Edward R Wolpow. In his research, Wolpow scoured the Merriam-Webster dictionary for other examples and uncovered around half a dozen (albeit painfully obscure) Agamemnons—among them mimuluses (the plural of mimulus, the monkey-flower plant), mimicisms (“intense tendencies towards mimicry”), and susuhunan (the title held by rulers in the ancient Javanese sultanate of Mataram, of course).

But besides the Latin names of flowering plants and the titles of sixteenth century Indonesian monarchs, Wolpow found that your best chance of uncovering an Agamemnon was not to look for nine-letter words themselves, but rather for nine-letter chains hidden inside longer words:

  • BAB–ILI–STS appears in probabilists (“students of probability”)

  • NON–IMI–TAT appears in nonimitative (“not given to imitation”)

  • RER–EDE–EME appears in preredeemed (“given redemption beforehand”)

  • SIS–MOM–ETE appears in sismometer (an alternative form of seismometer)

  • UNU–NAN–IMI appears inside ununanimity (“a lack of overall agreement”)

These aren’t Agamemnons in their own right, of course, but if they’re allowed, then the possibility of even longer chains of palindromes is opened up. The word Protococcaceaea, for instance, is the name of a genus of green algae according to Merriam-Webster and, more importantly, contains the four-part palindrome chain OTO–COC–CAC—AEA. Whether we should start calling these words Protococcaceaeas rather than Agamemnons, however, is up to you of course...


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