palindrome

It has been pointed out to me that today (as I write this, but that won’t last long) is a palindrome in the US style – 01/02/2010 – and the ISO style (which I prefer because it sorts chronologically) – 2010.01.02. Or leave out the periods. 20100102: nary a dot; still, it’s today, ran 20100102.

Palindromes are great fun for word geek types, and if you’re reading this, you’re probably one such. You will likely greatly enjoy Weird Al Yankovic’s song “Bob,” every line of which is a palindrome, and it even rhymes.

Alas, palindrome is not itself a palindrome, which has given rise to the occasional appendage of emordnilap or semordnilap for no other reason than mirror effect. When we taste palindrome, we find that it has resonances that may or may not have anything to do with reversibility. Drome brings up various echoes: dromedary (a one-humped camel), syndrome, velodrome (on which the bicycles always go the same way), Videodrome (a psychological thriller directed by David Cronenberg)… Wherever you see drome (or the drom in dromedary), it’s from Greek dromos, “running.”

And palin? Palin may bring to mind a member of Monty Python, or it may make one think of a politician who makes as much sense backwards as forwards. It’s Greek for “back” (or “again”) – palinode refers to a poem or song retracting an earlier view; palingenesis means “rebirth” (it has more specialized usages); a palimpsest (with the n turned to m due to place assimilation with the p) is a rescraped parchment – something had been written on it, and that was scraped off and something new written on top. Sometimes, with ancient palimpsests (not that modern ones are common), what was scraped off is of more interest to us now, so we try to figure out what it was.

Palindromes can be words, or numbers, or even musical pieces. I actually quite like sound palindromes – things that have the same mouth movements backwards or forwards, even if they’re not spelled the same both ways. An example would be Can I annoy, yon? A knack! (OK, not all that coherent an example.) Try rolling this on your mouth slowly and you will see what I mean – for example, I said backwards is yah or the beginning of yon. Palindrome, for its part, said backwards comes out like morjnilap… Still nothing. Hey – nor, in a loop, drown in word pool. An irony, eh?

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