Palindromes Are Fun, Whichever Way You Look At Them

Palindromes in writing

We all know that palindromes read the same either way.

The most common forms are words like civic, mom, or mum and dad.

But as a literary device, a palindrome can be far more complex than only single words. They can also be phrases, sequences, or word playful poems.

I doubt that you would give them much thought in your writing. But it’s handy to know what they are and how they work.

What are palindromes?

The definition is a word, phrase, or sequence that reads the same backward as forward.

For example, madam or nurses run.

Its origin dates back to the early 17th century.

The word derives from the Greek word palindromos, which means running back again.

It is also from palin, meaning again, and drom, from dramein to run.

Palindromes come in different categories.

The most common are words, names, numbers, line units, and word units.

They are often a fun, almost gymnastic part of language and writing.

You are probably familiar with many of them.

But here’s a look at some examples that might surprise you.


Single words

We have many common palindromic words in English that we use all the time.

Examples include eve, kayak, level, madam, noon, peep, radar, refer, and wow.

The longest single word, tattarrattat, is from the 1922 book Ulysses by James Joyce.

But it is also an onomatopoeic word because it is formed from the sound it represents, a knock at the door.



Many names are palindromes, including Anna, Bob, Elle, Hannah, and Otto.

The famous Swedish group, Abba, is another.

As a twist, naming twins is another form.

Leon and Noel, Ari and Ira, Ellen and Nelle, and Aidan and Nadia are fun combinations.


Numbers and dates

Any number that reads the same either way, such as 11, 22, 33, 44, 55, 66, 77, 88, and 99, are palindromes.

It also applies to longer numbers like 17471.

It’s rarer for dates, but it happens.

February 2nd, 2022, is one of them because, in numbers, it reads 2/2/22.

It can also depend on whether you use US date formats. But February 2, 2020 (02022020) works in both date formats.



In phrases, palindromes ignore punctuation and spaces.

Here are some well-known examples.

Was it a car or a cat I saw?

Borrow or rob?

A man, a plan, a canal: Panama.

However, the first published palindrome is attributed to John Taylor.

In 1614 he wrote, Lewd did I live & evil I did dwel.


Line units

Now we get to the more complex forms of using palindromes in writing.

Most often, you can find examples in poetry.

Here’s an example by James Albert Lindon, an English poet and puzzle enthusiast.

It reads the same, line by line, from top to bottom and bottom to top.


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.


Word units

A more complex form is mirrored poetry.

This form is when a poem reads the same, word for word, in either direction.

Here’s an example by Robert Lee Brewer, Senior Editor of Writer’s Digest.

Witches Burn

Gypsies tell girls,
“Witches burn candles,”
and laugh. Cats
jump fences.
Shadows cast spells in
in spells cast shadows.
“Fences jump, cats laugh,
and candles burn witches,”
girls tell gypsies.



Palindromes are interesting and enjoyable to read.

But it’s probably not a form most writers would spend their time trying to replicate.

However, for fiction writers, especially science fiction, perhaps there is scope to play with character names.

It’s relatively easy to form names like Axelexa, Zaxaz, or Bixaxib, and you can find online generators to help.

But for most of us, it’s simply a fascinating literary device we come across from time to time.


Related reading: The Difference Between A Simile And Metaphor

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