Palindrome

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

Palindromes
A palindromic question.

A Palindrome is a type of word play in which a word, phrase, or sentence reads the same backward or forward--such as Madam, I'm Adam

Semordnilaps (the word palindromes in reverse) are words that spell other words when spelled backwards (for example, star/rats, drawer/reward).

Aibohphobia is the palindromic term for an irrational fear of palindromes.

Palindrome Examples

  • pop
    deed
    kayak
    civic
    radar
    level
    deified
    rotator
    repaper
    testset
    racecar
    redivider
    detartrated
  • "tattarrattat"
    (James Joyce, Ulysses, 1922)
  • Wassamassaw
    (from an American Indian name for "water," a swamp outside of Summerville, South Carolina)
  • A man, a plan, a canal--Panama!
  • Able was I ere I saw Elba.
  • Too bad--I hid a boot.
  • Do geese see God?
  • Murder for a jar of red rum.
  • Drab as a fool, aloof as a bard.
  • Go deliver a dare, vile dog!
  • [Caption below a cartoon of a family sitting around a dinner table; the boy is speaking]
    "Mom, Dad, sis--I'm not like you--I'm not a palindrome."
    (Paul Karasik, The New Yorker, January 21, 2013)
  • Norma is as selfless as I am, Ron.
    (attributed to poet W.H. Auden)
  • Gateman sees name, garageman sees name tag.
  • Some men interpret nine memos.
  • "Go Hang a Salami! I'm a Lasagna Hog!"
    (title of a book on palindromes by Jon Agee, 1991)
  • "Doc: note, I dissent. A fast never prevents a fatness. I diet on cod."
    (James Michie, New Statesman, May 5, 1967)
  • "Once you notice that 'decaf' backward is 'faced,' it is but the work of a moment to invent the indignant complaint of a coffee drinker confronting the absence of regular coffee: 'I faced decaf! I!!' The same process yields a tailor's cranky opinion ('Knits stink!') and a travel agent's apology to a volcanologist: 'Avalon? No lava . . .'"
    (Ellis Weiner, "Mind Games." Smithsonian, April 2008)
  • "T.S. Eliot, top bard, notes putrid tang emanating, is sad. I'd assign it a name: gnat dirt upset on drab pot-toilet."
    (Alastair Reid)
  • Are we not drawn onward, we few, drawn onward to new era?

Demetri Martin's Palindromes for Specific Occasions

A FATHER TRYING TO CONNECT WITH HIS ESTRANGED SON BY OFFERING HIM SOME PIZZA:
Son, I'm odd.

Domino's?

A DIALOGUE BETWEEN A MAN AND HIS YOUNG SON. THE MAN IS TRYING TO TEACH THE BOY THE NAME OF A PIECE OF FRUIT AND THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN SINGULAR AND PLURAL:
"Son, say a papaya."
"Papayas."
"No 's.'"

 A SCIENTIST'S REACTION TO WHAT HE FINDS IN A PETRI DISH.
P.U.! Organisms in a group.
(Demetri Martin, This Is a Book. Grand Central, 2011)

The Longest Palindromes

"Malayalam, the native tongue of the people of Kerala, is the longest palindromic language-name. The credit of the longest palindromic place-name goes to Kanakanak, which is near Dillingham, Alaska, USA. The 19-letter Finnish word saippuakivikauppias, meaning 'a dealer in caustic soda,' is the longest known palindromic word. . . .

"The first palindromic sentence in English appeared in 1614:

Lewd did I live & evil I did dwel."

(O.Abootty, The Funny Side of English. Pustak Mahal, 2002)

The Language of Magic

"For the most part finding palindromic words or composing palindromic phrases and sentences is a form of light entertainment. Some devotees display great ingenuity in finding long palindromes covering more than one sentence. In the past, however, palindromes have figured in the language of magic, and many have taken reversibility to be significant."
(Barry J.

Blake, Secret Language. Oxford Univ. Press, 2010)

Dylan Thomas's Semordnilap

"The first minister chuckled as he pointed out how [Dylan] Thomas's fictional village in Under Milk Wood--Llareggub--spelled out something rather rude backwards. 'That shows the devilment of the man.'"
(Steven Morris, "Dylan Thomas Centenary: South Wales Gets Ready to Welcome the World." The Guardian [UK], January 5, 2014)

Roger Angell on the Darker Side of Palindromes

"[T]hat night, shortly after four, I began with the words. In a few minutes, I found 'gulp plug' (something to do with bass fishing) and 'live evil,' and sailed off into the best sleep I had enjoyed in several weeks. The next night brought 'straw warts' and 'repaid diaper,' and, in time, a long if faintly troubled snooze ('ezoons'). I was delighted. My palindromic skills improved rapidly, and soon I was no longer content with mere words.

. . . One morning, after a mere twenty minutes of shut-eye, I met my wife at the breakfast table and announced, 'Editor rubs ward, draws burro tide.'

"'Terrific,' she said, unenthusiastically. 'I don't get it. I mean, what does it mean?'

"'Well, you see,' I began, 'there's this editor in Mexico who goes camping with his niece, and--'

"'Listen,' she said. 'I think you should take a phenobarb tonight. You look terrible.'"
(Roger Angell, A Day in the Life of Roger Angell. Viking Press, 1970)

Etymology:
From the Greek, "running back again"

Pronunciation: PAL-in-drome