Wednesday, September 7, 2011

This Is Gonna Be a Palindromically Wonderful Year (originally published February 21, 2002)

   When the clock ticked from 8:01 PM yesterday, February 20th, time — for a full sixty seconds — read in perfect symmetry. To be more precise: 20:02, 02/20, 2002. (The time is military, which is read in 24-hour increments.)
   It was an event that has only happened only once before, and will never be repeated.
   Actually, a similar event occurred several weeks ago. On February 2nd, the date numerically read 2/02/02.
   The last occasion that a date and time read in such a symmetrical pattern was ten centuries before the digital or the 24-hour clock: 10:01 AM, on January 10, 1001. And because a digital clock only goes to 23:59, it is something that will never happen again. Unlike the infrequent blue moon, which has occurred several times in the last decade.
   The perfect symmetrical pattern of time and date is a palindrome. 2002 is a palindromic year. It happens about every 110 years — 1881, 1771, etc. Get it?
   Of course, since 1991 was also a palindromic year, there are exceptions. (There are always exceptions to most rules.)
   Incidentally, due to that exception, we are the last generation for the next thousand years to experience two palindromic years in a lifetime.
   A traditional palindrome, for those unfamiliar with the term, is a word, phrase or sentence that reads the same backward and forward. It can be a single word, such as did, gag, noon, level, deed, peep, radar, rotator or reviver, or a phrase: I did, did I? and Madam, I’m Adam. The latter is rumored to have been the first words ever uttered by Adam when he happened upon a naked Eve, if you accept the Biblical version of creation.
   A modern interpretation of that encounter would not be palindromic, but might go something like this: Yo, babe, wassup? Wanna bite -- of dis apple?
   Palindromes can be witty, but sometimes make no sense. (i.e. naïve Evian; no lemons, no melon.) Spelling can often be tweaked to make them work — lewd did I live, evil I did dwel (sic).
   There’s also a looser version, known as the word-unit palindrome that allows words in a sentence to be reversed. Women understand men; few men understand women. That’s a phrase with true meaning forwards, backwards, yesterday, today, or tomorrow!
   The word palindrome, according to the dictionary, is derived from the Greek word palindromos, which means running back again. Sotades the Obscene, who originated the word, wrote vulgar verses about the ancient Greek, King Ptolemy II, which led to the poet’s execution, according to The Palindromist magazine. (Yes, there’s even periodical for devout palindromists!)
   One of the most noted palindromists was Peter Hilton, a genius who helped crack German codes during World War II. After one particular grueling day of breaking Nazi messages, he came up with the following: Doc, note. I dissent. A fast never prevents a fatness. I diet on cod.
   The Guinness Book of World Records once listed a poem, "Edna Waterfall," by Howard Bergerson of Oregon as the longest palindrome that made sense. But the category no longer exists.
   The longest single palindromic word in the English language is redivider.
   The longest known palindromic words are two 25-letter Finnish words.
   As I write this, a panel of judges is deciding whether to award the Finns a Gold medal for this feat. But a French judge is being investigated by the International Palindromic Committee for allegedly conspiring with Eastern European counterparts that could allow the Russians to somehow exceed the 25-letter barrier.
   Here are some popular palindromes: Rise to vote, sir; Cigar? Toss it in a can. It is so tragic; Go hang a salami, I’m a lasagna hog; Too hot to hoot; See referees; No way a papaya won; So many dynamos, and the famous tribute to President Theodore Roosevelt, written by Leigh Mercer: A man, a plan, a canal-Panama!
   Ta ta for now, which is not a palindrome, just my closing 
for this column.