August 29th, 2008
Sarah Palin’s (husband’s) surname doesn’t come from Greek. Repeat: Sarah Palin’s surname doesn’t come from Greek. But πάλῐν is such a common Greek adverb that I can’t help but think about it whenever I see it — originally on Michael Palin, but now on this poor doomed budding Quayle Schlafly.
Patrick Hanks’ Dictionary of American Family Names gives Palin origins from English (a person from Palling, Norfolk or Poling, Sussex), Welsh (from ap Heilyn ‘son of Heilyn’, which probably means something about serving at table), or French (unknown).
You know ‘palin’ as the first half of ‘palindrome’, a word that reads the same right-to-left as left-to-right: Madam I’m Adam, A Man A Plan A Canal Panama, A Gassy Obese Boy’s Saga. Together with the -δρομ- “-drom-” bit, you can gloss palin-drome as “running backwards”. It’s also present in “palimpsest”, giving the ‘again’ in “scraped again, back to its former condition” which is how you erase ink from parchment.
But the definitions of πάλῐν in Liddell & Scott are fun for the ways in which they support the Democratic talking points about McCain as a third Bush term: “backwards” (the direction in which McCain/Palin would take the country further), “once again, once more” (McC is Bush once again). Sense I.2 starts out vaguely in the vein of the now-defunct “straight talk” image: “to express contradiction, gainsay”; but then it also heads into McCain’s unfortunate attempts to “take back, unsay” some of the things he has said, whether previous positions or misstatements about the width of the border between Iraq and Pakistan.
This is not an etymological issue; I guess it’s just a subliminal suggestion of devolution, the sort of thing that naming consultancies are supposed to help you avoid: on another axis, it’s probably part of why Barack didn’t choose Chris Dodd (Obama-Dodd).