What is a palindrome?:
The word 'PALINDROME' comes from the Greek word palindromos, which means 'running back again'. A palindrome is any word, line or even complete poem which reads the same backwards as it does forwards.
Madam I'm Adam...:
'Madam, I'm Adam' is one of the best known palindromes but Eden's Adam never uttered it to his palindromic Eve (I have this from a very reliable source). Nonetheless, this form of wordplay is ancient.
The epigrams of Nicodemus of Hereclea (300 BC?) and other ancient Greek writings contain palindromes. SOTADICS is another name for palindromes, after Sotades, a poet of this period who employed them frequently in his satirical poetry.
Early ones reverse words...:
Early palindromes reverse the words and not the letters. For example, this palindrome written in the fifth century AD, can be read in one direction as the words of Cain and in the other as the words of Abel (ref. Genesis 4: 3,4)
Sacrificabo macrum nec dabo pingue sacrum
('I will sacrifice the lean and will not sacrifice the fat')
Si nummi immunis...:
In the nineteenth century, 'si nummi immunis' was a lawyer's palindromic motto. This was translated (somewhat mockingly?) by William Camden as 'Give me my fee, and I warrant you free.'
Interestingly, a lady in the court of Queen Elizabeth, who was banished when suspected of an improper liason, adopted the palindromic epigram, 'Ablata at alba' ('Banished but blameless').
Earliest palindrome in English...:
Though dating back in England to the 15th-16th century, these palindromes were usually in Latin. The earliest traceable palindrome in English was written by John Taylor in 1614:
'Lewd did I live & evil did I dwel'
Today's palindrome enthusiasts object to this one's dependency on an ampersand and the archaic spelling, and have even suggested the alternative:
'Evil I did dwell; lewd did I live.'
Famous Greek example...:
Victorians loved palindromes (as they did all word games) and were especially intrigued by the famous Greek example:
NIYON ANOMHMATA MH MONAN OYIN
This means, 'Cleanse your sins and not only your face' and it suggests Psalm 51. It has been inscribed in ancient churches in many parts of the world from Cambridge to Constantinople.
Very difficult to devise...:
Palindromes are exceedingly difficult to write. In 1867, a writer contributed this to Notes and Queries, a scholarly magazine of the day:
You may make ridiculous lines, like the following, addressed (if you please) to a costermonger's cur: 'Go droop-stop-onward draw no pots poor dog'... but I never yet saw any, in any language, which deserved to be called good.
Stevie Wonder liked them...:
Authors through the ages have been appreciative of the palindrome. Jonathan Swift wrote a poem to Queen Anna about Lady Masham which relied on the palindromic quality of their names. Edgar Allan Poe and Lewis Carroll devised riddles and games based on this form of wordplay.
In 1968, Stevie Wonder released the album 'Eivets Rednow'. Though it doesn't read the same in both directions, it illustrates people's fascination in reversing words.
Black Sabbath called their 1983 album 'Live Evil' and who can forget the Swedish sensation ABBA. Their hit song 'SOS' is unique in being a palindromic record by a palindromic group.
Today there are many great palindromes in English and most people know a few. The next feature, Palindromes - Part Two
, will examine those as well as some less familiar ones. And how about the longest palindromic word? Or words that read the same when viewed in a mirror? Stay tuned...