Tuesday, July 15, 2014

A back 'n' forth on palindromes

I’ve said previously that for the sake of clarity “palindrome” should be spelled palindromemordnilap.

That way people would never forget a palindrome is a word spelled the same forwards as backwards.

I bring this up today because I heard an ABBA song — “Waterloo” — on my morning stumble through the grocery store and immediately thought, as I always do, “Here’s a song by the most prominent palindrome rock band in music history.”

I’m not saying they’re better, but ABBA’s enjoyed more commercial success than bands named If I Had a Hi-Fi, To Rococo Rot or Dopapod, the latter best known for its palindromic 2009 album, “I Saw Live Dopapod Evil Was I.”

I know way too much about ABBA and I suspect my curiosity about palindromes is to blame.

For instance: “abba” is a Hebrew word from the Bible that means father, but that’s not how ABBA got its name — sometimes printed with the stylized first B backwards so it looks like a true palindrome (above).

No, the band is ABBA because the band members are Agnetha Faaltskog, Bjorn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson and Anni-Frid Lyngstad.

I much prefer the Winnipeg rockers to ABBA, but you have to give it to the Swedes. They put much more thought into their name than did B.T.O., a great abbreviation band named after primary members Randy Bachman, Fred Turner and Bert Overdrive.

I made that last one up. There is no Bert Overdrive.

The word palindrome stems from the Latin words palin, (means “again”) and dromos (means “way, direction”).

(Trivial aside: I once tweeted that a Sarah Palindrome would be an insightful blond capable of seeing Russia from the front porch of her Key West home.)

ABBA intrigues me because it might be the world’s shortest palindrome. Most palindromes are five letters: refer, civic, kayak, radar, etc.

Or in this case should that be etcte?

I once read a story about a walking palindrome named Zerimar Ramirez. It be fun to be his friend because you could be certain he’d never overstay his welcome, always coming and going as he is bound to do.

The Oxford English Dictionary says the longest single-word palindrome is tattarrattat, a 12-letter word palindrome coined by James Joyce to convey the sound of a door being knocked upon.

The longest phrase palindrome I can quote from memory is “A man, a plan, a canal, Panama!” It’s 21 letters long.

The phrase is credited to author Leigh Mercer who published the palindrome in 1948. It’s historical and punchy. It will endure.

I wonder how long it took him to come up with that handy dandy. I think it must have taken at least a concentrated week or so. Maybe more. 

What about ones like these uncredited gems?

• A man, a plan, a cat, a ham, a yak, a yam, a hat, a canal — Panama!

• A slut nixes sex in Tulsa

• Amy, must I jujitsu my ma?

• Lisa Bonet ate no basil!

• Zeus was deified, saw Suez.

Blogging, I realize, is an enormous waste of time, but even a guy like me looks at those who compose palindromes and thinks, c’mon, man, get a life.

Of course, they’re all mere pikers when it comes to marathon palindromes. It is said in 1980 David Stephens wrote a 58,795-letter palindromic novel he called “Satire: Veritas.”

Get it?

His other book is called “Dr. Awkward,” yes that’s another clever one.

His is an odd obsession. I could find precious little about Stephens or his books. Maybe shrewd booksellers realized the folly of publishing a palindrome novel.

Who’d want to read a book that spoils the ending in the very first paragraph?

So there’s a little overview of these linguistic house of mirrors for you to start your day, the A to Z of palindrome.

Or in this case the AB to BA.

Those now in the mood can just for the fun of it can now read the whole thing again backwards starting right here.

It’s a time-consuming splurge I’d advise against on what I’m sure must be an already busy day.

Palindromes can all go in reverse.

Time can not.

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