A palindrome is a word, phrase, number, or other sequence of characters which reads the same backward or forward. Allowances may be made for adjustments to capital letters, punctuation, and word dividers. Famous examples include "A man, a plan, a canal, Panama!", "Amor, Roma", "race car", "taco cat", "Was it a car or a cat I saw?" and "No 'x' in Nixon".
Composing literature in palindromes is an example of constrained writing.
The word "palindrome" was coined by the English playwright Ben Jonson in the 17th century from the Greek roots palin (πάλιν; "again") and dromos (δρóμος; "way, direction").
- 1 History
- 2 Types
- 3 Long palindromes
- 4 Biological structures
- 5 Computation theory
- 6 Non-English palindromes
- 7 Notable palindromists
- 8 See also
- 9 References
- 10 Further reading
- 11 External links
Palindromes date back at least to 79 AD, as a palindrome was found as a graffito at Herculaneum, a city buried by ash in that year. This palindrome, called the Sator Square, consists of a sentence written in Latin: "Sator Arepo Tenet Opera Rotas" ("The sower Arepo holds with effort the wheels"). It is remarkable for the fact that the first letters of each word form the first word, the second letters form the second word, and so forth. Hence, it can be arranged into a word square that reads in four different ways: horizontally or vertically from either top left to bottom right or bottom right to top left. As such, they can be referred to as palindromatic.
A palindrome with the same property is the Hebrew palindrome, "We explained the glutton who is in the honey was burned and incinerated", (פרשנו רעבתן שבדבש נתבער ונשרף; perashnu: ra`avtan shebad'vash nitba'er venisraf), by Abraham ibn Ezra, referring to the halachic question as to whether a fly landing in honey makes the honey treif (non-kosher).
The palindromic Latin riddle "In girum imus nocte et consumimur igni" ("we go wandering at night and are consumed by fire") describes the behavior of moths. It is likely that this palindrome is from medieval rather than ancient times.
Byzantine Greeks often inscribed the palindrome, "Wash [the] sins, not only [the] face" ΝΙΨΟΝ ΑΝΟΜΗΜΑΤΑ ΜΗ ΜΟΝΑΝ ΟΨΙΝ ("Nīpson anomēmata mē mōnan ōpsin", engraving "ps" with the single Greek letter Ψ, psi), on baptismal fonts. This practice was continued in many English churches. Examples include the font at St. Mary's Church, Nottingham and also the font in the basilica of St. Sophia, Constantinople, the font of St. Stephen d'Egres, Paris; at St. Menin's Abbey, Orléans; at Dulwich College; and at the following churches: Worlingworth (Suffolk), Harlow (Essex), Knapton (Norfolk), St Martin, Ludgate (London), and Hadleigh (Suffolk).
Brazilian palindromist Rômulo Marinho proposes a classification system for phrases, thus described:
- Explicitus: always presents a clear and direct message;
- Interpretabiles: exhibits coherence, but requires some effort to understand;
- Insensatus: merely collects words unrelated to each other.
Characters, words, or lines
The most familiar palindromes in English are character-unit palindromes. The characters read the same backward as forward. Some examples of palindromic words are redivider, noon, civic, radar, level, rotor, kayak, reviver, racecar, redder, madam, and refer.
There are also word-unit palindromes in which the unit of reversal is the word ("Is it crazy how saying sentences backwards creates backwards sentences saying how crazy it is?"). Word-unit palindromes were made popular in the recreational linguistics community by J. A. Lindon in the 1960s. Occasional examples in English were created in the 19th century. Several in French and Latin date to the Middle Ages.
These are also line-unit palindromes.
Sentences and phrases
Palindromes often consist of a sentence or phrase, e.g., "Eva, can I stab bats in a cave?", "Mr. Owl ate my metal worm", "Was it a car or a cat I saw?", "A nut for a jar of tuna", "Do geese see God?", "Ma is as selfless as I am", "On a clover, if alive erupts a vast pure evil, a fire volcano", "Dammit, I'm mad!","Dog, as a devil deified, lived as a god.", "Not so, Boston.","A Toyota's a Toyota", "Go hang a salami, I'm a lasagna hog", and "A Santa lived as a devil at NASA".
Punctuation, capitalization, and spaces are usually ignored. Some, such as "Rats live on no evil star", "Live on time, emit no evil", and "Step on no pets", include the spaces.
Semordnilap (palindromes spelled backward) is a name coined for words that spell a different word in reverse. The word was coined by Martin Gardner in his notes to C.C. Bombaugh's book Oddities and Curiosities of Words and Literature.
An example of this is the word repaid, which is diaper spelled backward.
The longest examples of a semordnilap contain eight letters:
- "stressed" ("desserts")
- "rewarder" ("redrawer", one who redraws)
- "dioramas" ("samaroid", resembling a samara)
"Noon" is a palindrome but not a semordnilap because it is the same word whether spelled backward or forward.
Semordnilaps are also known as word reversals, reversible anagrams, heteropalindromes, semi-palindromes, half-palindromes, reversgrams, mynoretehs, or anadromes. They have also sometimes been called antigrams, though this term usually refers to anagrams which have opposite meanings.
Famous English palindromes
Some well-known English palindromes are, "Able was I ere I saw Elba", "A man, a plan, a canal - Panama!", "Madam, I'm Adam" or "Madam in Eden, I'm Adam", "Doc, note: I dissent. A fast never prevents a fatness. I diet on cod" and "Never odd or even".
"Rise to vote, sir" was featured in an episode of The Simpsons.
Some people have names that are palindromes. Included are given names (Ada, Anna, Bob, Aviva), surnames (Harrah, Renner, Salas, Arora) or both (Eve, Hannah, Maham, Otto). Lon Nol (1913–1985) was Prime Minister of Cambodia. Nisio Isin is a Japanese novelist and manga writer, whose pseudonym (西尾 維新, Nishio Ishin) is a palindrome when romanized using the Kunrei-shiki or the Nihon-shiki systems. (It is often written as NisiOisiN to emphasize this). Some people have changed their name in order to make of it a palindrome (one example is actor Robert Trebor), while others were given a palindromic name at birth (such as the philologist Revilo P. Oliver or the flamenco dancer Sara Baras). Some names can be made part of a larger palindrome, like: "You have no name, Manon Eva Huoy!"
Palindromic names are very common in Finland. Examples include Olavi Valo, Emma Lamme, Sanna Rannas, Anni Linna and Asko Oksa.
There are also palindromic names in fictional media. "Stanley Yelnats" is the name of a character in Holes, a 1998 novel and 2003 film. Four of the fictional Pokémon species have palindromic names in English (Eevee, Girafarig, Ho-Oh, and Alomomola).
Restriction enzymes recognize a specific sequence of nucleotides and produce a double-stranded cut in the DNA. While recognition sequences vary widely, with lengths of between 4 and 8 nucleotides, many of them are palindromic, which correspond to nitrogenous base sequences between complementary strands, which, when read from the 5' to 3' direction, are identical sequences.
A palindromic number is a number whose digits, with decimal representation usually assumed, are the same read backward, for example, 5885. They are studied in recreational mathematics where palindromic numbers with special properties are sought. A palindromic prime is a palindromic number that is a prime number, for example, 191 and 313.
A palindrome in which a recorded phrase of speech sounds the same when it is played backward was discovered by composer John Oswald in 1974 while he was working on audio tape versions of the cut-up technique using recorded readings by William S. Burroughs. Oswald discovered in repeated instances of Burroughs speaking the phrase "I got" that the recordings still sound like "I got" when played backward.
In France, a more complex example has been identified with "Une slave valse nue" (a Slavic girl waltzes naked).
The interlude from Alban Berg's opera Lulu is a palindrome, as are sections and pieces, in arch form, by many other composers, including James Tenney, and most famously Béla Bartók. George Crumb also used musical palindrome to text paint the Federico García Lorca poem "¿Por qué nací?", the first movement of three in his fourth book of Madrigals. Igor Stravinsky's final composition, The Owl and the Pussy Cat, is a palindrome.
The first movement from Constant Lambert's ballet Horoscope (1938) is entitled "Palindromic Prelude". Lambert claimed that the theme was dictated to him by the ghost of Bernard van Dieren, who had died in 1936.
British composer Robert Simpson also composed music in the palindrome or based on palindromic themes; the slow movement of his Symphony No. 2 is a palindrome, as is the slow movement of his String Quartet No. 1. His hour-long String Quartet No. 9 consists of thirty-two variations and a fugue on a palindromic theme of Haydn (from the minuet of his Symphony No. 47). All of Simpson's thirty-two variations are themselves palindromic.
The music of Anton Webern is often palindromic. Webern, who had studied the music of the Renaissance composer Heinrich Isaac, was extremely interested in symmetries in music, be they horizontal or vertical. An example of horizontal or linear symmetry in Webern's music is the first phrase in the second movement of the symphony, Op. 21. A striking example of vertical symmetry is the second movement of the Piano Variations, Op. 27, in which Webern arranges every pitch of this dodecaphonic work around the central pitch axis of A4. From this, each downward reaching interval is replicated exactly in the opposite direction. For example, a G♯3—13 half-steps down from A4 is replicated as a B♭5—13 half-steps above.
Just as the letters of a verbal palindrome are not reversed, so are the elements of a musical palindrome usually presented in the same form in both halves. Although these elements are usually single notes, palindromes may be made using more complex elements. For example, Karlheinz Stockhausen's composition Mixtur, originally written in 1964, consists of twenty sections, called "moments", which may be permuted in several different ways, including retrograde presentation, and two versions may be made in a single program. When the composer revised the work in 2003, he prescribed such a palindromic performance, with the twenty moments first played in a "forwards" version, and then "backwards". Each moment, however, is a complex musical unit, and is played in the same direction in each half of the program. By contrast, Karel Goeyvaerts's 1953 electronic composition, Nummer 5 (met zuivere tonen) is an exact palindrome: not only does each event in the second half of the piece occur according to an axis of symmetry at the centre of the work, but each event itself is reversed, so that the note attacks in the first half become note decays in the second, and vice versa. It is a perfect example of Goeyvaerts's aesthetics, the perfect example of the imperfection of perfection.
In classical music, a crab canon is a canon in which one line of the melody is reversed in time and pitch from the other. A large-scale musical palindrome covering more than one movement is called "chiasic", referring to the cross-shaped Greek letter "χ" (pronounced /ˈkaɪ/.) This is usually a form of reference to the crucifixion; for example, the Crucifixus movement of Bach's Mass in B minor. The purpose of such palindromic balancing is to focus the listener on the central movement, much as one would focus on the center of the cross in the crucifixion. Other examples are found in Bach's cantata BWV 4, Christ lag in Todesbanden, Handel's Messiah and the Fauré Requiem.
A table canon is a rectangular piece of sheet music intended to be played by two musicians facing each other across a table with the music between them, with one musician viewing the music upside down compared to the other. The result is somewhat like two speakers simultaneously reading the Sator square from opposite sides, except that it is typically in two-part polyphony rather than in unison.
The longest palindromic word in the Oxford English Dictionary is the onomatopoeic tattarrattat, coined by James Joyce in Ulysses (1922) for a knock on the door. The Guinness Book of Records gives the title to detartrated, the preterite and past participle of detartrate, a chemical term meaning to remove tartrates. Rotavator, a trademarked name for an agricultural machine, is often listed in dictionaries. The term redivider is used by some writers, but appears to be an invented or derived term—only redivide and redivision appear in the Shorter Oxford Dictionary. Malayalam, an Indian language, is of equal length.
In English, two palindromic novels have been published: Satire: Veritas by David Stephens (1980, 58,795 letters), and Dr Awkward & Olson in Oslo by Lawrence Levine (1986, 31,954 words). What is more well known is the 224 word long poem "Dammit I'm Mad" by Demetri Martin. In French, Oulipo writer Georges Perec's "Grand Palindrome" (1969) is 5,556 letters in length. In Hebrew, Noam Dovev wrote a 1,001-word, 3,773 letter palindromic story called, "Name sold, I'd lose man".
In most genomes or sets of genetic instructions, palindromic motifs are found. The meaning of palindrome in the context of genetics is slightly different, however, from the definition used for words and sentences. Since the DNA is formed by two paired strands of nucleotides, and the nucleotides always pair in the same way (Adenine (A) with Thymine (T), Cytosine (C) with Guanine (G)), a (single-stranded) sequence of DNA is said to be a palindrome if it is equal to its complementary sequence read backward. For example, the sequence ACCTAGGT is palindromic because its complement is TGGATCCA, which is equal to the original sequence in reverse complement.
A palindromic DNA sequence may form a hairpin. Palindromic motifs are made by the order of the nucleotides that specify the complex chemicals (proteins) that, as a result of those genetic instructions, the cell is to produce. They have been specially researched in bacterial chromosomes and in the so-called Bacterial Interspersed Mosaic Elements (BIMEs) scattered over them. Recently[when?] a research genome sequencing project discovered that many of the bases on the Y-chromosome are arranged as palindromes. A palindrome structure allows the Y-chromosome to repair itself by bending over at the middle if one side is damaged.
It is believed that palindromes frequently are also found in proteins, but their role in the protein function is not clearly known. It has recently been suggested that the prevalence existence of palindromes in peptides might be related to the prevalence of low-complexity regions in proteins, as palindromes frequently are associated with low-complexity sequences. Their prevalence might also be related to an alpha helical formation propensity of these sequences, or in formation of proteins/protein complexes.
In the automata theory, a set of all palindromes in a given alphabet is a typical example of a language that is context-free, but not regular. This means that it is impossible for a computer with a finite amount of memory to reliably test for palindromes on one pass. (For practical purposes with modern computers, this limitation would apply only to incredibly long letter-sequences.)
In addition, the set of palindromes may not be reliably tested by a deterministic pushdown automaton which also means that they are not LR(k)-parsable or LL(k)-parsable. When reading a palindrome from left-to-right, it is, in essence, impossible to locate the "middle" until the entire word has been read completely.
The palindromic density of an infinite word w over an alphabet A is defined to be zero if only finitely many prefixes are palindromes; otherwise, letting the palindromic prefixes be of lengths nk for k=1,2,... we define the density to be
A palstar is a composition of palindromic strings.
According to Guinness World Records, the Finnish 19-letter word saippuakivikauppias (a soapstone vendor), is claimed to be the world's longest palindromic word in everyday use. A meaningful derivative from it is the word saippuakalasalakauppias (a soapfish bootlegger). An even longer effort is saippuakuppinippukauppias (a soap dish wholesale vendor), albeit somewhat contrived in its meaning (literally "a soap dish bundle vendor"). The given name for a Finnish male, "Otto Nenonen", could be combined with the previous noun(s), making the name-title combination an even longer phrase.
The longest palindrome in the Estonian language is the word kuulilennuteetunneliluuk ("a hatch from where a bullet flies out of when exiting a road tunnel"). Respectively, according to the Dutch Guinness Book of World Records, the longest palindrome in Dutch is the word koortsmeetsysteemstrook, which translates into English as "a strip of a fever measurement system".
Palindromes in Arabic language
Arabic language is an abjad; that is, only consonants are represented as letters. Vowels are not visible as letters. Instead, they can be represented using diacritics. Palindromes in Arabic are taken from letters (consonants) only, disregarding vowels that follow/proceed them. Examples are shown below.
In the Quran
- ربك فكبر (transl.: rabbaka fakabbir, [And] your Lord glorify) (Quran 74:3)
The sentence reads rabbaka fakabbir. Here, reading the sentence backwards including vowels would not create a palindrome. However, taking out consonants only (which are here: r, b, k, f, k, b, r) can clearly create a palindrome.
- كل فى فلك (transl.: kullun fi falak, ... [but] each, in an orbit, is swimming) (Quran 36:40)
Consonants are: k, l, f, y, f, l, k.
In Arabic literature
- مودته تدوم لكل هول * وهل كل مودته تدوم
The verse transliterates to: mawaddatuhu tadumu likulli hawlin * wahal kullu mawaddatihi tadumu; and translates to: His cordiality lasts despite all calamities * but, will all of his cordiality last? Consonants are: m, w, d, t, h, t, d, w, m, l, k, l, h, w, [l], w, h, l, k, l, m, w, d, t, h, t, d, w, m; with [l] being the mid letter.
Palindromes in ancient Sanskrit
Palindromes of considerable complexity were experimented with in Sanskrit poetry. Complex palindromes appear in the 19th canto of the 8th-century epic poem Śiśupāla-vadha by Magha. It yields the same text if read forward, backward, down, up, or diagonally:
(Note: a hyphen indicates a continuation of same word.) The last four lines are an inversion of the first four and are not part of the verse. They are included here only so that its properties may be more easily discerned, as the up-and-down reading depends on re-reading the text back up again in each column.
The stanza translates as:
- [That army], which relished battle (rasāhavā), contained allies who brought low the bodes and gaits of their various striving enemies (sakāranānārakāsakāyasādadasāyakā), and in it the cries of the best of mounts contended with musical instruments (vāhasāranādavādadavādanā).
The same work (Śiśupāla-vadha) also contains stanzas in which each line is a palindrome, and stanzas that may be read backward to give a new stanza (semordnilaps). Such stanzas are also found in the earlier work Kirātārjunīya.
The famous palindromic poem 'Ram Krishna Vilom Kayvyam' when reading forwards describes Lord Ram and Ramayana and while reading backward describes Krishna and Mahabharata.
Palindromes in Tamil poetry
Palindromes are referred to in Tamil as "Maalai Maatru" (மாலை மாற்று). The earliest known palindromic verses (11 couplets) occur in the devotional poetry of the Shaivism saint Sambandhar who lived around the 7th Century C.E.
The first of these eleven verses runs thus:
யாமாமாநீ யாமாமா யாழீகாமா காணாகா
காணாகாமா காழீயா மாமாயாநீ மாமாயா
It refers to Shiva as the incomparable God, the one who plays the Veena, the beautiful one adorned with snakes, the one who destroyed Kama, whose abode is Sirkazhi, who also appears as Vishnu, and beseeches him (Shiva) to rid the devotee of impurities.
Palindromic verses are also to be found in Madhava Shivagnana Yogi's Kanchi Puranam (மாதவச்சிவஞானயோகிகள் காஞ்சிப் புராணம்) and in Mahavidvaan Meenakshi Sundaram Pillai's Thirunaagaik Kaaronap Puranam (மகாவித்துவான் மீனாட்சிசுந்தரம் பிள்ளை திருநாகைக் காரோணப் புராணம்).
Palindromes in Persian
A famous example that most students in Iran have heard in literature classes is:
شو همره بلبل بلب هر مهوش / شکر بترازوی وزارت برکش
This can be translated literally as "Weigh the sugar with the ministry scale."
- Howard Bergerson
- Jon Agee
- Hugo Brandt Corstius
- Su Hui (poet)
- J. A. Lindon
- Leigh Mercer
- Mark Saltveit
- Constrained writing
- List of palindromic places
- Palindromic number
- Palindromic polynomial
- Phonetic palindrome
- Anastrophe, different word order
- Mirror writing
- Yreka, California for the palindromic Yreka Bakery and Yrella Gallery
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The longest palindromic word in English has 12 letters: tattarrattat. This word, appearing in the Oxford English Dictionary, was invented by James Joyce and used in his book Ulysses (1922), and is an imitation of the sound of someone ...
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