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Happy Palindrome Day!

  • January 10, 2011
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All forms of “word play” showcase language in its versatility and potential for humorousness. The palindrome is a way of playing with words that has a rich history of use throughout the different languages of the world. In verbal and written language, a palindrome is a word or phrase that can be read the same left to right as right to left.

The History of the Palindrome

Palindromic phrases date back nearly 2,000 years, but the modern term was coined in the 1600s by author and dramatist Ben Jonson, who wrote in London during the times of Shakespeare. Today, the word palindrome also applies to poems and creative stories written with this constrictive technique. The term palindrome originates from the Greek words palin and dromos, which mean again and direction or way respectively. However, the Greek term for palindrome stems from the word for crab alluding to the side to side motion of walking crabs.

Since that date, palindromes examples have been found in religious circles as prayers, in Sanskrit poetry and in the writings of numerous modern authors.

The simplest palindromes examples are the words “mom” and “wow.” Many names such as “Bob and “Hannah” are palindromic as well. Among the longest palindromes known to exist, the Finnish word for a soap dish wholesale vendor is believed to be the longest: ‘saippuakuppinippukauppias.’

While single words are the simplest type of palindrome, there is a much more complex form of the word play. Instead of a word that can be read the same backward as forward, imagine a whole phrase or sentence that can be!

Palindromic phrases are highly amusing and impressive. Some of them are nonsensical, such as “Denim axes examined.” The most impressive palindromic phrases are those that form a coherent sentence. “Drab as a fool, aloof as a bard” is an example of this.

Palindrome use has a function beyond simple amusement. Many writers practice constrained writing, a method of imposing strict rules upon what may be written. This practice forces the writer to be as creative and clever as possible within the confines of the rules he sets. The palindromic rule severely limits the words a writer can use, demanding an immense amount of creativity.

Classical composers, authors, musicians and celebrities have immortalized the palindrome in various ways, and these poems, manipulated sound recordings, classical music compositions and auditory works are often considered the longest palindromes. The music world has been familiar with the palindrome concept for hundreds of years.

However, the palindrome is not just for verbal writing; numerous musicians have employed the device in their musical compositions.
In the recording studio, engineers have created phonetic symmetries with word combinations like work crew and new moon, which sound the same when played in reverse. In popular music, the palindrome can be found in artists such as Weird Al Yankovic and They Might Be Giants in lyric form.

Other types of palindromes exist besides single word and phrase forms. Whereas some consider letters to be the units that must be the same backward as forward, others use whole words as units. For example, “”First Ladies rule the State and state the rule: ladies first.“, “Fall leaves after leaves fall.“, “King, are you glad you are king?“, “Says Mom, “What do you do?” You do what Mom says.“, “You know, I did little for you, for little did I know you.“.

Other great sentence palindromes examples:

Anne, I vote more cars race Rome to Vienna.

Desserts, I stressed.

Do geese see God?

Many lists of palindromes can be found online. The following claims to be the longest list available on the internet; you can find some of the longest palindromes in sentence form and many hilarious formations on this Palindromelist site.

For more on the history of palindromes, see Wikipedia .

The palindrome is both a useful tool in writing and a humorous language game. Have you ever practiced constrained writing using the palindromic rule? What are your favorite lists of palindromes?

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