Happy New Year, of course - and happy second palindromic year (2002, the same number forward and backward) in 11 years (the most recent was 1991). That makes this the only generation in 2,000 years to celebrate two palindromic years: The last two in a single generation were 999 and 1001, and the next two in a generation won't come until 2992 and 3003 - another millennium. The next palindromic year won't occur until 2112.
Yet these are calendrical palindromes. The real fun, much of it nonsensical, which makes it more fun, comes with word palindromes.
We hear that these are dreadful times. President Bush says, darkly, that Osama & Co. have changed our lives forever; Bush himself spent the holidays at his ranch girding, in his words, for "a year of war." So the right moment is at hand for word games. People love 'em. Practically every newspaper except The Wall Street Journal carries a daily crossword. Palindromes, though, appear on hardly anybody's screen.
Palindromes are words, phrases, sentences - even poems - that contain the same letters forward and backward. Mom is one, and Dad. So are radar, deified, and a Toyota. Palindromes are at least as old as Rome. Many years ago archaeologists excavating the ruins of the Macellum Liviae, an imperial-age Roman food market found under the present Basilica of St. Mary Major, happened upon one of the old market's taverns. And there on a wall they found a Latin graffito, Roma summus amor (Rome is supreme love).
Many palindromes lack articles, so they frequently read like toilet-stall scribblings or bad newspaper headlines - such as:
- Won't lovers revolt now?
- Pa's a sap.
- Sit on a potato pan, Otis.
- Poor Dan is in a droop.
- A dog! A panic in a pagoda
And the well-known
- A man, a plan, a canal, Panama.
Some, however, contain a certain devilish or workaday wisdom, as in:
- Sex at noon taxes.
- Draw putrid dirt upward.
- Zeus was deified, saw Suez.
- I roamed under it as a tired, nude Maori.
- "Do nine men interpret?" "Nine men, I nod."
Who in the world is smart enough or has time enough - or patience and interest enough - to think these things up?
Some have been around for years and have unknown origins. Others are the creations of great minds. Two British palindromists - Leigh Mercer and J.A. Lindon - have contributed heavily to the literature (as with Jar a tonga, nag not a raj). Writer Alastair Reid penned "T. Eliot, top bard, notes putrid tang emanating, is sad. "I'd assign it a name: gnat dirt upset on drab pot toilet."
Americans have made major additions to the palindromic oeuvre as well. At hand are several terrific books: "Palindromes and Anagrams," by Howard W. Bergerson (New York: Dover, 1973); "Madam, I'm Adam and Other Palindromes," by William Irvine, illustrated by Steven Guarnaccia (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1987); "Go Hang a Salami! I'm a Lasagna Hog!" by Jon Agee (New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1991); "So Many Dynamos! and Other Palindromes," by Jon Agee (New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1994); "Ana, Nab a Banana," by Craig Hansen (New York: Plume, 1995); and - perhaps definitively - "I Love Me, Vol. I" (S. Wordrow's "Palindrome Encyclopedia," revealed and interpreted by Michael Donner, Chapel Hill: Algonquin, 1996).
Some samples from Bergerson's book:
- Dennis and Edna sinned.
- Red rum, sir, is murder.
- Live not on evil, madam, live not on evil.
- Was it a rat I saw? And
- Sums are not set as a test on Erasmus.
From Irvine's book:
- Tarzan raised Desi Arnaz' rat.
- Sniff 'um muffins.
- Al lets Della call Ed Stella.
- Star comedy by Democrats.
From the Agee books:
- Top spot.
- Pull up, Bob, pull up!
- Amoral aroma.
- Oozy rat in a sanitary zoo.
- Dr. Awkward. And
- Dad's dad's dad.
From Hansen's book:
- Ruffled elf fur.
- Tim, as demanded, named Sam "it."
- Smug gums.
- Dessert stressed.
- God's dog.
From the Wordrow/Donner book:
- A slut nixes sex in Tulsa.
- Golf? No, sir. Prefer prison-flog.
- A DNA gun is in Uganda!
- God, to have Eva. Hot dog!
- A ham of Omaha.
- Dog doo! Good God!
- Ed, I saw Harpo Marx ram Oprah W. aside.
- Campus motto: "Bottoms up, Mac!"
- Dame Russia is sure mad.
- Devil never even lived.
- Bush: Sub!
- An Oz I ran in Arizona.
- Did I do, O God, did I as I said I'd do? Good, I did!
Many nonsensical, some not - but all good fun in this supposedly dark hour. Don't worry; be happy with palindromes - you ciloholic (Woodrow/Donner defines it, given that Oxford and Merriam Webster do not, as "one who is addicted to palindromes"). Have fun with them, that is, unless alas you suffer from aibohphobia ("irrational fear of palindromes").