A palindrome is defined as a word or sentence that is read the same forward as it is backwards. There are several different kinds of palindromes but the most common are those which turned in the opposite direction, spell out letter by letter the same word or words. Alternatively, palindrome might be concerned with the meaning, or the use of the same words, but not the same letters in identical order.
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History of Palindromes
The word “palindrome” comes from the Greek meaning “again” and “direction” or “way”. It was first introduced by the writer Henry Peacham in the book, The Trish of Our Times, published in 1638. But, they date back in other cultures and languages to at least 70 AD. There is a record of a palindrome in the ancient buried city of Herculaneum. This example is remarkable in that it forms a square. The first letters of each word form the first word and the second letters of each word form the second word, and so on. It reads in four different ways.
The first known example of a palindrome was in Latin and read “sator arepo tenet opera rotas” eaning “the sower Arepo leads with his hands the plough”. Other examples have been found in ancient Greek and Sanskrit.
Purpose of Palindromes
Depending on the palindrome and the context, they are used in various ways. Some enjoy creating palindromes as a test, something to push one’s mind to consider the various ways that words can be manipulated. Other times they are happy accidents. Such is the case with many short names.
Types of Palindromes
Character by Character
This is the most common type of palindrome in the English language. They are read letter by letter, or character by character. The characters all match up meaning that the word is spelled the same forward as it is backward.
Much less common than character by character palindromes, name palindromes refer to people’s names. These can be spelled the same backwards as they can forwards. For example, Eve, Otto and Anna.
In this different form of palindrome, a reader is only concerned with the words, not the letters that spell them. The individual letters don’t match but if you read the sentence backwards, word for word, then it would say the same thing.
The word “semordnilap” has come to be used to refer to words that spell other words when they are reversed. It was coined by Martin Gardner in his notes on the book Oddities and Curiosities of Words and Literature from the early 1960s. These words are deliberate creations. For example: “mho” the word used to refer to a unit of electrical conductance is “ohm” spelled backwards.
Other kinds of palindromes are concerned with numbers, dates, and even biology. There are also examples found in music and symbology. For example, the date 11/11/11 or the time 11:11. Numeric palindromes are studied in recreational mathematics. In music, there is an example in Haydn’s Symphony No. 47 in G. It is nicknamed “the Palindrome” because the third movement, the second half of the minuet is the same as the first but backwards.
Examples of English Palindromes
There are numerous well-known palindromes in the English language. Single words include racecar, madam, roto, kayak, refer, noon, radar, refer, sagas, solos, tenet, and deified. The longest palindrome in the English language is the word “tattarrattatt” which was used as the sound one makes when knocking on a door and comes from James Joyce in his novel Ulysses, published in 1922.
In regards to phrases, take for example “T. Eliot, top bard, notes putrid tang emanating, is sad; I’d assign it a name: gnat dirt upset on drab pot toilet” written by the Scottish poet Alastair Reid. Other phrases include:
- Madam, I’m Adam
- Never odd or even
- Murder for a jar of red rum
- Rats live on no evil star
- Live on time, emit no evil
- Step on no pets
- A man, a plan, a canal— Panama