2002 - Year of palindrome

Wednesday, January 2, 2002

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Tarzan raised Desi Arnaz' rat.

You can say that again -- backward.

OK, so the first sentence isn't true. Hey, we're not sure Desi Arnaz even had a rat. But it is a palindrome. And that's important, especially in 2002, the Year of the Palindrome.

You know palindromes, don't you? They're words, verses, lines or numbers with a little reverse English on them, things that read the same backward as forward: Anna. Otto. Race car. Madam I'm Adam. Able was I ere I saw Elba. Go hang a salami. I'm a lasagna hog.

And, oh, by the way, 2002.

Whether you prefer numbers or words, this is a significant time in the history of calendars and palindromes. Think about it: If you were at least 10 years old by the end of 2001, you are making history as a member of the Palindrome Generation. That's because we are the only generation in a thousand years to live through two palindromic calendar years in our lifetimes -- 1991 and 2002.

The last time that happened? You have to go back to the time of Leif Ericson, to the years 999 and 1001.

The next calendar-year palindrome won't come again until 2112.

Some may ask what all this means. Isn't it obvious?

Are we not drawn onward, we few? Drawn onward to new era?

Hey, beats us. But that's a palindrome, too.

Words of fame

There are tons of palindromes. Arguably the most famous: A man, a plan, a canal: Panama. Since then there have been dozens of spin offs, including:

A man, a plan, a cat, a canal: Panama.

A dog, a plan, a canal: Pagoda.

Columnist William Safire once wrote that his favorite palindrome is Sex at noon taxes.

OK, so all this falderal is not going to change your life. But it might make you look a bit more fondly on palindromes.

Those who study such things see palindromes as wondrous creations, an almost magical assemblage of letters that invoke feelings of everything from harmonic convergence to a sort of linguistic feng shui.

Writes Michael Donner in his exhaustive palindrome encyclopedia, I Love Me, Vol I: "Few things if any are as beguiling or charming or gracious as fine palindromes."

Palindromes are all around us. Did you know that the years 1999 and 2000 are also palindromes if written in Roman numerals -- MIM and MM.

Lest you think palindromes are a modern discovery, consider that our Mediterranean forebears were likely engaging in the form hundreds of years before Christ, Donner writes.

If they could create palindromes, could you?

But how do you go about it?

We read up, consulted an expert or two, and came up with the following advice:

Forget it. It's impossible.

No, check that. It's just difficult. There is no secret to creating a palindrome. Some simply have the talent.

Donner explains: "This ability, which expresses itself as an impulse here and an inspiration there...erupts in many people...as a sort of cultivated dyslexia."

Author-illustrator Jon Agee parlayed his gift with palindromes into a successful career. His first three palindromic books -- "Go Hang a Salami," "So Many Dynamos" and "Sit on a Potato Pan, Otis" -- became instant hits. His fourth book, Palindrome Mania, comes out, appropriately enough, in 2002.

At this time it is appropriate to stop and thank the father of palindromes, Sotades of Maroneia, who truly suffered for his art.

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