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I think most people with analytical minds find the concept of palindromes a fascinating one. They’re symmetrical, regular, mathematical if you will.

Single palindromic words

The simplest palindromes are single words and are somewhat unspectacular. They are symmetrically spelt.

bob, bib, gag, dud, dad, did, pop, nun, tit, tat, tot, tut are all palindromes.

The longest single palindromic, non-medical English word is apparently redivider and although I can’t seem to find that word in my current dictionary of choice, I’m sure it means a person or device which divides something that has already been divided one or more times.

Next up are word pairs

These are two words which mirror each other when spelt backwards. They tend to be most interesting when the words contrast with each other.

live evil is interesting and can be interpreted in several ways, whereas straw warts just isn’t and can’t.

Spelling palindromes

Since entire sentences of word pairs is not really possible given the limited number available, modern Palindromists have come to accept punctuation as invisible when judging the validity of a palindrome. Thus, creating sentences which are spelt identically when read from either back to front, if one ignores spaces, commas, apostrophies and full stops.

Even if a little strange, this has opened the door to a range of intriguing palindromes.

  • Cain: a maniac.
  • Dogma: I am God
  • Madam in Eden, I’m Adam.
  • Rise to vote, sir.
  • Dammit, I’m mad!
  • Drab as a fool, aloof as a bard.
  • Golf? No sir! Prefer prison-flog.
  • A man, a plan, a canal: Panama.
  • A Toyota: Race fast, safe car. A Toyota.
  • “Reviled did I live”, said I, as evil I did deliver.
  • Doc, note I dissent: a fast never prevents a fatness. I diet on cod.
  • T. Eliot, top bard, notes putrid tang emanating, is sad. I’d assign it a name: gnat dirt upset on drab pot-toilet.

These are nice, if a little contrived, so another form of palindrome was invented that opened up even more creative doors.

Word order palindromes

In these palindromes, the words are not themselves reversed, but the order of the words is symmetrical.

  • Did I? I did!
  • Am I therefore I am?
  • You are so rich! And Rich, so, are you!
  • Women understand men! Few men understand women!

I’ve always been fascinated by some of these more complex palindromes, I find them creepy. I think it’s the symmetry that scares me, the unnaturalness of them. Take this gem, an entire poem:

Love/Hate Relationship

Mimics hate:
Passionate always, forging forward.
Unquiet rage screams
Tangled mercilessly;
Emotion mirrors emotion,
Mercilessly tangled.
Screams rage, unquiet.
Forward forging, always passionate:
Hate mimics

- by Paula Brown

The way the patterns superimpose themselves onto words makes me feel that there’s something hidden inside them like a dark secret. You’re hearing one thing but sensing another, dissonant chord, which leaves you feeling a little unsure and unsettled.

Line by line palindroms

Instead of dividing the palindromic unit letter by letter or word by word, the unit of reflection is one line. Each line is reflected.

This is the final distinct type of palindrome which, although being about as far from the original precept as one can get and still maintain the sense of it being a palindrome, produces the most disturbing writing of all.

Down by the gaol
As I was passing near the gaol
I met a man, but hurried by.
His face was ghastly, grimly pale.
He had a gun.  I wondered why
He had.  A gun?  I wondered why
His face was ghastly!  Grimly pale,
I met a man, but hurried by,
As I was passing near the gaol.
- Anon

The stilted language always makes me feel like its been penned by someone stepping over the edge of insanity or alien presence looking in from the outside.

They hold the same fascination for me as mirrors have done since I was a child. Somewhere in the poem, you lose yourself and come out the other side, or more insidiously are replaced by your reflection, with you being sucked helplessly into the mirror.

But this, this sums it up more than any other. It is embodies the scariest aspect of what a palindrome is. A reflection, an evil twin waiting beyond the mirror.

In this following poem, written by James A. Lindon and first published in Dmitri Borgmann’s Beyond Language in 1967, the writer discovers that the line that divides this side from the other can be broken on a whim. See how the main character finds himself excluded from his own life in a twist so subtle as to be almost undetected until its too late.  

Entering the lonely house with my wife
I saw him for the first time
Peering furtively from behind a bush -
Blackness that moved,
A shape amid the shadows,
A momentary glimpse of gleaming eyes
Revealed in the ragged moon.
A closer look (he seemed to turn) might have
Put him to flight forever -
I dared not
(For reasons that I failed to understand),
Though I knew I should act at once.
I puzzled over it, hiding alone,
Watching the woman as she neared the gate.
He came, and I saw him crouching
Night after night.
Night after night
He came, and I saw him crouching,
Watching the woman as she neared the gate.
I puzzled over it, hiding alone -
Though I knew I should act at once,
For reasons that I failed to understand
I dared not
Put him to flight forever.
A closer look (he seemed to turn) might have
Revealed in the ragged moon
A momentary glimpse of gleaming eyes
A shape amid the shadows,
Blackness that moved.
Peering furtively from behind a bush,
I saw him, for the first time
Entering the lonely house with my wife.
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