Essay / Misc.

Palindrome Day

January 2, 2010, was an important date: If you write it in mm/dd/yyyy format, it’s 01/02/2010, which is the same sequence of numbers forwards or backwards: 01022010. A numerical palindrome.

Who would notice something like this, or care? Plenty of people found it interesting. Because plenty of people walk among us, turning word and number sequences backwards in their minds just for fun. I know, because I was once one of them, and though I’ve healed up pretty well and am no longer obsessive about it, I still indulge in plenty of word-reversing in the course of an average day.

People who are really into palindromes, however, cultivate the habit of mentally checking every likely-sounding letter sequence to see if it might be reversible. I guess the number-palindrome people do that with number sequences too, but frankly I find that to be aberrant behavior and can’t imagine why they would do that. But I digress. What all palindromists have in common is the quest for a reversible sequence.

Take “reversible,” for instance. At a glance, it seems promising to the palindromic mind. Backwards, it comes out elbisrever. Not much there to work with, aside from the obvious “rever” bit. A palindromist will ask, “what word or sentence could be built on the sequence r-e-v-e-r?” You could add a T to the end, for the word revert, requiring a T to be added to the front as well. That would yield t-r-e-v-e-r-t. Can that sequence be extended? Yes, you can add an I to the front, yielding “it revert i.” Aha, that’s it. Slap a reversible DID on either end of that sequence, and you’ve got a sentence: “Did it revert? I did.” Voila, a palindrome. Not a very good one, but if you do that with a few hundred words per day, and you save the useful scraps and junk sequences, you’re bound to build something good.

During graduate school, I spent a lot of my errand-running time running the palindrome game in my mind. Here are the best ones I ever wrote, in months of play:

Yo, Banana Boy!

Oh, Cameras are macho.

Do geese see God?

Draw putrid dirt upward.

Strategem: Megatarts!

Snot was in; I saw tons.

Gnu dung

Sin is as a sin is.

Tulsa night life: Filth, gin, a slut.

Pull up if I pull up.

Yo, Bob! Mug a gumbo boy!

Party boobytrap

Egad! A base tone denotes a bad age.

Satan, oscillate my metallic sonatas.

Drab as a fool, aloof as a bard.

Peel, so to go to sleep.

Red ice cider.

Et tu, butte?

Selah, Thales.

Deified… Drawn on, ever even onward… Deified!

So go, logos.

I composed all of those myself, but it turns out that if you google them, you’ll find plenty of other folks have composed the same ones independently. If you do that, you’ll come across many long lists of palindromes, including some real mind-blowers. In fact, what finally broke me out of the mental habit of working on palindrome construction was that I found a book of palindromes so good, I decided I couldn’t compete and shouldn’t bother trying. That book was Jon Agee‘s Go Hang a Salami, I’m a Lasagna Hog. That title’s a palindrome, and the book contains some others just as certain to make you say, “Wowy-wow” or “Wow, oho, wow,” or “Wow, swap God for a janitor, rot in a jar of dog paws, wow.”

More comprehensive than Agee is the palindrome encyclopedia with the name I Love Me, Vol. I., credited to the unlikely S. Wordrows, but really by Michael Donner.

And Mark Saltveit used to publish a great little journal, The Palindromist, with a pushme-pullyu for a mascot and some genuine scholarship among the fun and games. Mark has assembled great information about ancient palindromists, especially one Sotades who is credited with inventing the form in Greek. A little-known fact of church history is that Gregory of Nazianzus composed palindromes.

But to really bring you to your knees, Weird Al Yankovic, in one of his moments of transcendent mania, had the idea of writing an entire song with palindromes. What kind of crazy song could have a string of nonsense lyrics like that? Why, a Dylan song, of course. Or, to say it palindromically, a song by “Bob.” Hold on to your jaw and watch the song here. And watch out for the next palindrome day, coming up remarkably soon: November 2, 2011.

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