Palindromes: Won’t I panic in a pit now?

Linguistically speaking, a palindrome is a word or phrase that reads the same backwards as it does forwards. You’re probably familiar with character-unit palindromes, where the individual letters are reversed, but there is also such a thing as word-unit palindromes, where the word order is reversed; and even line-level palindromes. More about those later.

Palindromes crop up in numbers, science and music, too, but since this is a site devoted to the English language, I’m not going to spend any more time talking about those.

Character-unit palindromes

Many of the words we use every day in English are palindromes. Civic, deed, level, madam, noon, peep, racecar, radar, refer and reviver are all examples.

You can only have so much fun with single words, though. More popular among palindrome lovers (or ‘elihphiles’, as they like to call themselves, although it doesn’t work so well as a plural) are full sentences where the letters can be reversed to spell the same thing.

Allowances are made for capital letters, punctuation and spaces where required, although some do follow the same spacing, for instance “Live on time, emit no evil” and “Step on pets”.

A couple of the best known are probably “Madam, I’m Adam”, “Never odd or even”, and “A man, a plan, a canal – Panama!” – but here are some more for your enjoyment.

Are we not drawn onward, we few, drawn onward to new era?
Do geese see God?
Kay, a red nude, peeped under a yak.
Lived on decaf; faced no devil.
Mr Owl ate my metal worm.
Murder for a jar of red rum.
Oozy rat in a sanitary zoo.
Pull up if I pull up.
Sex at noon taxes.
Was it a car or a cat I saw?

If you’re really into these and want to keep reading then check out Palindrome List. No need to explain what that’s about.

Word-unit palindromes and beyond

In these examples, the mirroring is found at word level rather than letter by letter:

Blessed are they that believe that they are blessed.
Dollars make men covetous, then covetous men make dollars.
Fall leaves after leaves fall.
Is it crazy how saying sentences backwards creates backwards sentences saying how crazy it is?
Please me by standing by me please.

If you have any more then please leave a comment to share them – it can be fun trying to think them up!

Moving on to line-unit palindromes, perhaps you’ve seen this doing the rounds on Facebook:
Christian Vs Atheist

I suppose it’s not technically a palindrome because the two ‘parts’ can be read separately and don’t really flow together, but it has a poignant message nonetheless. If you want a true line-unit palindrome, I’ll leave you with this one by James A. Lindon which could take some beating:

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.