lalita larking

An obsession with cryptic crosswords. Everything else falls in place.

Location: Kolkata, India

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Wow! wow! wow!

"I don't believe that," I said flatly. He was encroaching on my territory, after all. "No, really," he said. "So tell me, and I will check," I said. If the mongoose family motto is 'Run and find out', my family crest, if I ever get one, will have the words 'Verify, cross-check' on it.

Look, if we are talking about words and word games, I am the resident expert, okay? I take his help if I run out of fingers and toes to add numbers, and he asks me how many esses there are in obsession and that is all as it should be. But instead of showing a healthy dose of aibohphobia as befits a non-enthusiast, he was claiming he knew a palindrome I didn't.

Palindromes always remind me of Budugu's dilemma. A Dennis the Menace like character created by Mullapudi Venkataramana, Budugu once gets puzzled about how to carry out a task his uncle set him. To watch out for girls coming down the street and call his uncle is all very well, but how do you tell if they are coming or going if the girls wear their hair in two plaits, and have one over the shoulder? Palindromes are like that. They read the same coming or going.

Palindromes have always fascinated people. Okay, I will amend that; they fascinate people who are interested in words. There were palindrome graffiti found scratched on ancient monuments. There is something pleasing about palindromes with their symmetry, and in the case of the longer ones, the humour and aptness. Telugu poets have written palindromic poems.

Palindromes in Indian languages are different from those in English, though. While Malayalam might be a palindrome everybody knows, written in any Indic language it won't be one. Vikatakavi is a palindrome Indians know and chuckle about, but it is not a palindrome in English script.

Before we consider the longer ones, let's first see how many words in daily life and usage are palindromes that we are unaware of. Bob, civic, level, radar, rotor, rotator, tenet, and so on. Linguist Richard Lederer says 'wow' is the perfect palindrome. The letters are symmetrical, and it is a palindrome read upside down too.

There are some words that make other words when read backwards: evil-live, draw- ward, reviled-deliver, stressed-dessert, ergo-ogre, recap-pacer, straw-warts and so on. Oh and Dennis-sinned, and as two words it's a palindrome, too. Like aibohphobia, there is a term coined for these words- semordnilap, which is just palindromes written backwards.

While everybody knows some of the famous longer palindromes, there are some that are obscure, and only enthusiasts know them. 'Madam I'm Adam', is a well-known palindrome. So is 'A man, a plan, a canal, Panama!' 'Able was I ere I saw Elba', is another.

Less well-known are: 'Panic in a Titanic, I nap'. 'Name no one man'. 'Niagara, O roar again!' Or Lederer's favourite construction, 'Go hang a salami. I’m a lasagna hog'. The newer ' A Toyota's a Toyota' and again by Lederer, 'Pepsi is pep'.

There are philosophical questions like 'Do geese see God?' There are pious declarations like that lady banished from Queen Elizabeth's court adopted, 'Ablata at alba' (banished but blameless).

You see? I know a little about palindromes, and he was saying he knew a 51 letter palindrome constructed by Peter Hilton, one of his professors at Cornell. Mathematicians should stick to their lemmas and leave dilemmas of word games to other people. Instead, there they go, trespassing on others' territories. But when mathematicians play, they work at it too, I found.

This is the palindrome
That the Resident Mathematician said
That his professor constructed
That he recited from memory
That I verified and saw
That it read true
That is brilliant
That kills my notion that mathematicians should leave word games alone
All in the house that Jack built, as it were.

'Doc note, I dissent. A fast never prevents a fatness. I diet on cod.'



Anonymous Anonymous said...

You bemoan lack of comments. What can one say about posts like this, wow! wow! wow?
Secret admirer

11:39 am  
Blogger Lalita said...

Anon- Sigh!

12:36 pm  
Blogger M S said...

Is there any word for a positive feeling towards palindromes like an aibohphilia or something like that? You are turning us into one :-)

7:14 pm  
Anonymous Ash said...

If you had any other title, I could have quoted Carroll and said, Wow...etc.. But you preempted that. You are larking, does that mean what I think it means? And a whole lot of links too. I think it does.

9:07 pm  
Anonymous Krish Ashok said...

There ought to be a new term to describe words that take on new meanings when geometrically transformed. For example, WoW, rotated 180 degrees becomes MoM. "Me" transforms to "Aw" etc.

10:39 pm  
Blogger Lalita said...

Krish Ashok- You mean Ma, but yes, there ought to be a term for that. Start a Wiki on it, why don't you? :-)

11:07 pm  
Blogger Lalita said...

M S- Palindromophilia? It isn't a palindrome of course, but it is all I can come up with off hand.

Ash- Yeah, I should have left some for my handful of readers to resort to, I suppose. Eve, I am glad to notice didn't surface in your comment. Thank goodness for small mercies.

11:50 pm  
Anonymous Krish Ashok said...

No. I did mean "Me". If you physically rotate the letter "e" through 180 degrees, it will resemble small "a".
So Me becomes aW.

12:23 am  
Blogger Lalita said...

Krish Ashok- No, if you turn 'Ma' round and squint, it will look like 'eW', won't it? Or maybe I need new glasses.

am- we, Ma-ew is how it looks to me.

7:47 am  
Anonymous Krish Ashok said...

Me - aW

Are all ultadromes :)

9:43 am  
Blogger Sivaram said...

A number, which when on being added to it's reverse as well as when substracted, gives a perfect square is called a rare number.
A rare number which is palindromic is called a rare palindrome.
Example : 242

Anyhow, some one termed palindroming as a sort of "cultivated dyslexia" !
On that note, let me quote from Bill Bryson, "Are we not drawn onward, we few, drawn onward to new era?"

10:55 am  
Blogger Lalita said...

KA- :-)I like Indian palindromes too, ki-ti-ki, ka-na-ka, mam-daa-ra-daa-mam etc., phonetic instead of alphabetic.

Sivaram- Trust you to come up with the one I forgot to cite. Bravo!

11:19 am  

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