Poor Dan is in a droop. Sit on a potato pan, Otis. What do these—admittedly very unusual—sentences have in common?
They’re palindromes. Palin-what-in-the-what-now?
What is a palindrome, and where does the word come from?
A palindrome is a word, sentence, verse, or even number that reads the same backward or forward. It derives from Greek roots that literally mean “running back” (palin is “again, back,” and dromos, “running.”) The word appears to have been created in English based on these roots in the early 1600s.
So, a palindrome is like a word, phrase, or number that “runs back” on itself. This bit of wordplay is not the same thing as when you rearrange the letters of a word or phrase to spell another one. That’s called an anagram.
In palindromes, spacing, punctuation, and capitalization are usually ignored.
What are some examples of palindromes?
We use palindromes everyday without thinking about it. Common palindromic—that’s the adjective for palindrome—words include: noon, civic, racecar, level, and mom.
The Finnish word for “soapstone vendor” is supposedly the longest palindrome in everyday use: saippuakivikauppias. (What do you mean you don’t have a trusted soapstone vendor?)
The palindrome Malayalam is also of significant length. Malayalam is a language spoken in South India.
The longest palindrome in English is often considered tattarrattat, coined by James Joyce in his 1922 Ulysses to imitate the sound of a knock on the door.
That’s 12 letters. As for the longest palindrome phrase? In 2002 (a palindromic year, we should note), computer scientist Peter Norvig created a program that generated a palindrome consisting of 74,633 letters. Talk about a man (with a) a plan …
Variations on palindromes
Palindrome also has a specific application in biochemistry. Here, it is a region of DNA in which the sequence of nucleotides is identical with an inverted sequence in the complementary strand. GAATTC is a palindrome of CTTAAG.
What does semordnilap spell backwards? Palindromes. The fanciful word semordnilap refers to a word or phases that spells a different word or phrase backwards, such as stressed and desserts.
Some of our favorite palindromic phrases
- Never odd or even.
- We panic in a pew.
- Won’t lovers revolt now?
- Don’t nod.
- Sir, I demand, I am a maid named Iris.
What are yours?