January 22, 2004

I'm only a person whose armbands beat on his hands, hang tall.

If you're weird in just the right way, you'll enjoy this massive list of palindromes from Jim Kalb. (via George Wallace.) I read each one, enjoyed them all thoroughly, even all the NASA-based ones. There were even a few good ones I'd never seen before.

I've spent way too much time trying to compose palindromes of my own. The best venue for the activity is in the back rows of large university lecture halls, and since I rarely find myself in such circumstances nowadays, the work has suffered accordingly. Still, old interests, particularly the pointless ones, persist. There has even been a time or two when I have listed "palindrome composer" when some form or other asked for "occupation." (The palindrome business is fiercely competitive, but if you want to break in to it, I'd recommend picking up a copy of Palindrome Market, where you'll find contact information for all the major palindrome publishers, and a few of the minor ones, and tips for how to present your work so that it looks more publishable.)

The most satisfying palindromes are those which are short, self-contained, catchy little bits of poetry that almost make a kind of sense. Or at least, where a credible narrative background or scenario can be imagined with a little effort. Lisa Bonet ate no basil. (Entirely plausible at any particular moment.) A daffodil slid off Ada. (Difficult but possible under certain circumstances, and quite intriguing, at least if you're thinking of the same Ada I am.) Satan, oscillate my metallic sonatas. (A frequent, though rarely granted, request, I imagine.) Rats live on no evil star. (Well, they don't, do they?) And so forth. They're kind of hard to come by, and the good ones are justly famous and celebrated.

Next come those which are really, really, impressively long, especially if they're not derived from or based on some of the well-known ones. (You can always slip a few more into the man, plan, canal construction-- that's cool, but it's a second order coolness.) The rule is, I think, that the greater the length, the more they are forgiven for failing to make sense. Some longer ones actually still kind of make sense. Sort of. A famous one: "T. Eliot, top bard, notes putrid tang emanating, is sad. I'd assign it a name: gnat dirt upset on drab pot-toilet." Well, I've read less cogent pieces of literary criticism in my day, I can tell you that.

It's all gibberish, though, and the longer they get, the more gibbery they sound. But I love the sound of gibberish. In fact, there's a certain distinctive palindromey syntax, structure and failure to make sense that you can even hear in non-palindromic sentences sometimes. (Mostly in the lyrics of psychologically-damaged rock stars, or those feigning or copping the style of p.-d. r. s's, or from those for whom English is not quite their second language.) When things fail to make sense in that certain palindromey way, it adds a certain something, don't you think?

The longest one I ever came up with was:

Pure wolf, as we slam in a star bed, under a worm row, a red nude brat's animal sews a flower up.

I doodled this on one of the panels of the CD artwork for Show Business is My Life, confusing practically everyone who bothered to try to read it. Total confusion = palindromic success.

One of my favorite short ones was the hardly-working title of an ultimately abandoned solo project:

Flesh to mama: I am a moth self.

They even see me under call. We under all, we awful, awful, crawl. To hear my hour, come see me cry...

Posted by Dr. Frank at January 22, 2004 07:52 PM | TrackBack

I tried to make a palindrome about MTX, Dr. Frank, or song titles from the new album, but so far the only one I've come up with is, rather predictably, Doctor Rotcod. Take it from there...

Posted by: Donald at January 22, 2004 08:27 PM

I got totally confused there at the end.

Posted by: Blixa at January 22, 2004 10:02 PM

God damn a man-mad dog!

Amongst my extensive juvenilia is the play "Xerxes: Sex Rex", where a mysterious elixir causes one of the protagonists to speak only in palindromes (yeah, I had a lot of time on my hands in high school). The dramatic conclusion: "I die, Heidi". But I had to abandon my palindrome novel when I was only halfway through (yeah, that's just a dumb joke).

As far as relating them to MTX, if you're a "tune nut" -- "Naomi," I moan.

Best anagrams of "The Mr. T Experience":
1. Extreme Teen Chirp.
2. Mere niche pretext.
3. Excrete her imp net.

Posted by: Wes at January 22, 2004 10:04 PM

Just to up the pointless ante a bit, palindromes only using words with 3 or fewer letters:

These take even more elaborate stories to try to bring any sense of...sense to them. From Cobra77, one of my users:

Are we not on, we few? No to "New Era"!

- Exhorting people to learn about and oppose the PNAC

Posted by: Dave Bug at January 22, 2004 10:54 PM

I've been working too hard, so I can't think of any right now, but here is a snippet of useful info:

The longest single English word in common usage which is a palindrome is REDIVIDER, although the contrived chemical term DETARTRATED is two letters longer. In Finnish there is a 25-letter palindromic word: SOLUTOMAATTIMITTAAMOTULOS which means the result from a measurement laboratory for tomatoes, although technically it is a compound of four words. There is also the equally long SAIPPUAKUPPINIPPUKAUPPIAS which means soap cup trader.

Posted by: Channon at January 22, 2004 11:17 PM

Some random Googling turns up this link to Binary/Decimal Palindromes -- http://bach.dynet.com/palin/. Not for the faint of heart.

Posted by: Wes at January 22, 2004 11:55 PM

Sit on a potato pan, Otis!

You actually read that whole list? Man, that's a long-ass list...

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at January 23, 2004 12:14 AM

"Son I am able", she said "though you scare me." "watch," said I, Beloved, "I said" watch me scare you though. "said she, "Able am I. Son."

I palindrome I

Posted by: Matt Morris at January 23, 2004 09:10 AM

You may be interested in this:


Posted by: Kathy Reemes at January 23, 2004 11:03 AM

Curse you, Matt Morris, for being the first to quote the TMBG song for which this post practically begged. =) "Egad, a base tone denotes a bad age."

Is there a word other than "palindrome" to describe a sentence whose words (as opposed to individual letters) can be read backwards or forwards?

Posted by: geoff at January 23, 2004 03:05 PM

Sorry Geoff, I was up kinda late last night. It was wierd because I had just gotten in the mail all of TMBG's music videos on dvd. After watching I checked Dr. Franks blog and I thought "how wierd." And I thought that palindrome was also begging to be posted.

Posted by: Matt Morris at January 23, 2004 04:51 PM


Does that program just chug through numbers, or what?

Posted by: spacetoast at January 23, 2004 05:58 PM

Err...I thought you were responsible, nevermind...

Posted by: spacetoast at January 23, 2004 06:00 PM

I have a thing for palindromes to.
Checked out the site and found "A man, a plan, a canal: Panama!" which J Church used in a song (and what a good song that is). I haven't heard it in a year or two, though. I will give it a listen when I come home...

Posted by: Johan at January 23, 2004 07:31 PM

toast -- I have my own nerdy pursuits, but for better or worse, binary palindromes aren't one of them at the moment. :-)

Posted by: Wes at January 24, 2004 03:03 AM

The really interesting thing are plaindromes - things which preserve the stilted syntax of real palindromes, but don't actually read the same back-to-front.

Posted by: Ottar at January 27, 2004 03:24 AM
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