Palindrome fun abounds. Palindromes are fascinating beasts. Imagine running a race on a cross-country course. Immediately after the start, you passed through a forest, then a desert where a giraffe cheered you on, and ended on a beach by the ocean. At what you thought was the finish line, the race director said you had to turn around and run back the way you came to complete the race. So you ran the course backwards and saw first the exact same forest, then the giraffe in the desert, and finished at the beach. Puzzled, you turned around and looked back. The beach was gone and the forest beckoned.
That’s what makes palindromes magical. Read it through normally, left to right, and it makes sense. Then flip it around in reverse, and read the exact same thing. As if that wasn’t crazy enough, our genes contain palindromes, over ten million of them!
A palindrome can be simple, wearing its symmetry proudly like a Mardis Gras costume. Another might be subtle and deceptive, appearing as an ordinary sentence, only to reveal its mirror nature with a flourish. Every palindrome is a spider walking across a mirror, existing on the invisible boundary between reality and wonderland. The spider palindrome lives on each side simultaneously, like Alice in her looking glass worlds.
People have enjoyed word play for over two thousand years according to The Dictionary of Wordplay by Dave Morice. Sotades of Maronia in Thrace, invented this form in the third century BC.
From 79 AD, in Pompeii, comes the Sator Square, the earliest documented palindrome. Remarkably, this construction of five five-letter Latin words is also a two-dimensional palindrome. The square reads the same in rows and columns, from left-to-right and right-to-left, or up-down and down-up. You can even read it in a serpentine pattern, reversing direction after each word. It contains two pairs of ananyms and one palindromic word. In addition to this remarkable example, Latin scholars have found many other palindromes.
Though palindromes are fun to read, they are devilishly hard to write. I tried for years and never got past two-word palindromes. That’s not palindrome fun. Fortunately, there is much help to be found on the web.
Palindrome Fun Links
Tristan Miller is a writer and logologist. His Fun page has a number of links related to recreational linguistics (another term for logologist). It also includes a selection of his articles published in Word Ways: The Journal of Recreational Linguistics, now out-of-print, but archived online.
Barry Duncan calls himself the Master Palindromist. An interview with him appeared in The Believer, September 2011, written by Gregory Kornbluh. Documentary filmmaker Michael Rossi captured Barry’s methods of palindrome composition in the film The Master Palindromist.
Palindrome City is a fun collection of palindromes grouped in ways that city governments often organize themselves. Adam Aaronson and associates made it happen.
You can find many more examples of palindrome fun by searching online for “palindromes”. It’s worth a little effort to find the extraordinary lists out there.
Finally, you can get started writing your own original palindromes with the unique resource Franklin’s Palindromedary.
Image Credit: M Disdero / CC BY-SA
Ray N. Franklin
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