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Palindrome

A palindrome is a word, phrase, number or any other sequence of units (like a thread of DNA) which has the property of reading the same in either direction (the adjustment of spaces between letters is generally permitted). The word palindrome comes from the Greek words palin (back) and dramein (to run) meaning running back. Writing literature in palindromes is an example of constrained writing.

According to Bill Bryson's Mother Tongue: English & How It Got That Way (p. 227): "Palindromes... are at least 2,000 years old. The ancient Greeks often put 'Nipson anomémata mé monan opsin' on fountains. It translates as 'Wash the sin as well as the face.' The Romans admired them, too, as demonstrated by 'In girum imus nocte et consumimur igni' ('We enter the circle after dark and are consumed by fire'), which was said to describe the action of moths."

Palindromes occur in many western languages, but they are particularly prevalent in English due to the wide variety and frequent reversal of letter pairs within words.

Japanese palindromes, called kaibun, rely on the hiragana syllabary, like the word "shinbunshi" (newsprint). Their syllabary makes it possible to make very long palindromes.

Chinese palindromes are relatively easy to create due to the structure of written Chinese. For example: 我愛媽媽,媽媽愛我 ("I love Mom, Mom loves me") --- this is usually the first palindrom learned by Chinese kids. Numerous palindroms can be created by replacing "媽媽"(Mom) with any person. As a result, only very special palindromes are worth mentioning.

Examples of palindromic words and phrases:

Table of contents

Symmetry by sound

In Japanese:

  • Ta-ke-ya-bu ya-ke-ta (竹薮焼けた) - A bamboo grove has been burned.
  • Wa-ta-shi ma-ke-ma-shi-ta-wa (私負けましたわ) - I have lost.
  • Na-ga-ki yo-no to-ho-no ne-bu-ri-no mi-na me-za-me na-mi-no-ri-bu-ne-no o-to-no-yo-ki-ka-na (長き世の 遠の眠りの 皆目覚め 波乗り船の 音の良きかな) - Tanka

The Islandic music-band Sigur Rós composed a song on their album Ágćtis Byrjun, which partly sounds the same, playing forwards or backwards. Not only symmetric from the notes, but also symmetric in the sound by mixing the reverse music over the original. The song - named Staralfur - can be downloaded at their website under http://www.sigur-ros.co.uk/media/index (http://www.sigur-ros.co.uk/media/index).

The interlude from Alban Berg's opera, Lulu is a palindrome.

See also crab canon, in classical music: a canon in which one line of the melody is reversed in time and pitch from the other.

Symmetry by the characters Remark: Characters include letters and CJK characters.

  • Aibohphobia, the fear of palindromes (not necessarily recognized as a real word), is itself a palindrome
  • ABBA
  • Radar (acronym from RAdio Detection And Ranging, so it's self-defining too - i. e., the word "bounces back" like a radar signal)
  • Rotor ("it goes round and round and back and forth")
  • Glenelg (place name in Scotland and Australia)
  • Live Evil (used as an album title by, amongst others, the metal band Black Sabbath and jazz trumpeter Miles Davis)
  • redivider (the longest 'natural' palindrome in English)
  • Madam, I'm Adam.
  • Do geese see God?
  • Dennis sinned.
  • Koselure Mordni La Palindrome rules - OK
  • God hexes sex, eh dog? (written by Kingturtle)
  • Naomi did I moan?
  • Sex at noon taxes.
  • Able was I, ere I saw Elba. (the famous 'Napoleon's Lament', source unknown)
  • Ten animals I slam in a net.
  • Was it Eliot's toilet I saw? (Bill Bryson)
  • A Man, a plan, a canal - Panama! (Leigh Mercer)
    • Zeus saw 'twas Suez! (a refutation of the above by Lee M)
    • A man, a plan, a canoe, pasta, heros, rajahs, a coloratura, maps, snipe, percale, macaroni, a gag, a banana bag, a tan, a tag, a banana bag again, or: a camel, a crepe, pins, spam, a rut, a Rolo, cash, a jar, sore hats, a peon, a canal -- Panama! (attributed to Guy Steele)
  • Too far, Edna, we wander afoot. (Bill Bryson)
  • Yawn! Madonna fan? No damn way!
  • Tarzan raised a Desi Arnaz rat. (Baby Gramps)
  • Norma is as selfless as I am, Ron. (W. H. Auden)
  • Go hang a Salami. I'm a Lasagna Hog. (Baby Gramps)
  • Sums are not set as a test on Erasmus. (W. H. Auden)
  • Satan, oscillate my metallic sonatas. (Stephen Fry)
  • No, it is opposed, art sees trades opposition. (W. H. Auden,on a discussion of photography vs. painting)
  • Straw? No, too stupid a fad. I put soot on warts. (Leigh Mercer)
  • No, son, onanism's a gross orgasm sin: a no-no, son.
  • Are we not drawn onward, we few, drawn onward to new era? (Bill Bryson)
  • Rettebs, I flahd noces, eh? Ttu, but the second half is better. (Stephen Fry)
  • Doc, note, I dissent. A fast never prevents a fatness. I diet on cod. (Peter Hilton[?])
  • "It's Ade, Cilla, Sue, Dame Vita, Edna, Nino, Emo! Come on in and eat, I've made us all iced asti." (Stephen Fry)
  • "Peel's foe (not a set animal) laminates a tone of sleep." (Lyrics from Kew Rhone[?])
  • "Lewd did I live, & evil I did dwel." (John Taylor, the Water Poet)

In Dutch:

  • parterretrap: "stairway to the ground floor"
  • nepparterreserretrappen (less serious extension of the previous): "fake stairways from the ground floor to the sun lounge"

In Estonian:

  • Aias sadas saia: "It rains white bread in the garden."

In Finnish there are two 25-letter palindromes:

  • Solutomaattimittaamotulos: "the result from a measurement laboratory for tomatoes"
  • saippuakuppinippukauppias: "soap cup trader"

In French:

  • kayak
Pardonnez-moi??? I always thought "kayak" was Inuit!!!

  • élu par cette crapule
  • la mariée ira mal
  • Laval

In Hungarian:

  • Géza, kék az ég: "Géza, the sky is blue."
  • Rám német nem lel, elmentem én már: "The germans won't find me, I'm already gone." (1943)
  • Indul a görög aludni: "The greek goes to sleep."
  • Rémes tóga bagót sem ér: "Crap chiton worths nothing."
  • Erőszakos kannak sok a szőre: "Agressive males have lots of hair."
  • Keresik a tavat a kis erek: "Small streams look for the lake."
  • Kis erek mentén, láp sík ölén odavan a bánya rabja: jaj, Baranyában a vadon élő Kis Pálnét nem keresik!: "Along the small streams and in the flat lap of the moorland gone the prisoner of the mine: oh, nobody looks for Ms. Kis Pál who lived in the woods of Baranya." (Created by Demők Béla.)

In Slovene:

  • Perica reže raci rep: "Laundress cuts duck's tail."

In Lithuanian:

  • sėdėk užu kėdės: a phrase. Means "Sit over the seat!".

In Norwegian:

  • Regninger: The longest palindrome norwegian word. Means "bills".

In Chinese:

  • 我愛媽媽,媽媽愛我: "I love Mom, Mom loves me"
  • 客上天然居,居然天上客.
  • 人過大佛寺,寺佛大過人.
  • 人人為我,我為人人: "Everybody cares about me, I care about everybody"
  • 船上女子叫子女上船: "The woman on the boat is calling her children to go onboard" --- copy from 回文遊戲 (Palindrome Games) (http://www.tbes.tcc.edu.tw/class66/66/%BA%F4%AD%B6/%A6%5e%A4%E5%B9C%C0%B8.htm)

Symmetry by the words

Some palindromes use words as units rather than letters. They Might Be Giants released a single called I Palindrome I, the lyrics of which include the word palindrome: "Son I am able," she said, "though you scare me." "Watch," said I, "beloved," I said, "watch me scare you though." Said she, "able am I, Son."

Another example:

  • You can cage a swallow, can't you, but you can't swallow a cage, can you?

Of course, all Chinese palindromes are also of this type.

Symmetry by the lines

Still other palindromes take the line as the unit. The poem Doppleganger was composed by James A. Lindon.

Doppelganger

Entering the lonely house with my wife
I saw him for the first time
Peering furtively from behind a bush --
Blackness that moved,
A shape amid the shadows,
A momentary glimpse of gleaming eyes
Revealed in the ragged moon.
A closer look (he seemed to turn) might have
Put him to flight forever --
I dared not
(For reasons that I failed to understand),
Though I knew I should act at once.

I puzzled over it, hiding alone,
Watching the woman as she neared the gate.
He came, and I saw him crouching
Night after night.
Night after night
He came, and I saw him crouching,
Watching the woman as she neared the gate.

I puzzled over it, hiding alone --
Though I knew I should act at once,
For reasons that I failed to understand
I dared not
Put him to flight forever.

A closer look (he seemed to turn) might have
Revealed in the ragged moon.
A momentary glimpse of gleaming eyes
A shape amid the shadows,
Blackness that moved.

Peering furtively from behind a bush,
I saw him for the first time,
Entering the lonely house with my wife.


In genetics, a palindromic DNA sequence can form a hairpin.

See also : wordplay, word games, anagram, pangram, transcription (linguistics), crab canon



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