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What Is a Palindrome?

Some people may see or hear the word palindrome and wonder what it is.

A palindrome is a word, a phrase, or a sequence of words that read the same way in either direction, as with madam, don't nod, and Eva, can I see bees in a cave? A palindrome can include spaces and punctuation.

The word comes from the Greek palindromos ("running back again"; palin "back," dromos "direction"). Its original meaning applied to the backward movement of a crab.

Sources suggest different dates of the word's earliest use, but they seem to agree that it appeared sometime between the first and third centuries A.D. It is cited as having been introduced into English in the seventeenth century by a British poet and writer.

Some of the most common palindromes are character units that form the same word front to back and back to front.


level pop radar
civic refer solos
noon gig stats
kayak rotator sagas
racecar tenet wow

You'll also find palindromes as multi-word phrases.


my gym a nut for a jar of tuna
top spot drawer as a reward
no lemon, no melon no trace; not one carton
a man, a plan, a canal—Panama! so many dynamos
never odd or even too hot to hoot

The marvel of palindromes reveals itself most when they extend into full sentences.


Step on no pets. Mr. Owl ate my metal worm.
Do geese see God? Some men interpret nine memos.
Bombard a drab mob. Marge lets Norah see Sharon's telegram.
Too bad—I hid a boot. Gateman sees name; garageman sees nametag.
Was it a car or a cat I saw? Are we not drawn onward, we few, drawn onward to new era?

The longest palindromic sentence on record contains 21,012 words (a number that is itself a palindrome). The designer, Peter Norvig, released it at 20:02 (U.S. military time) on 02/20/2002.

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Pop Quiz

Now that you know what a palindrome is, identify which of the following sentences are palindromes. 

1. I ran the can all the way to the van.

2. No, it can; as it is, it is a war. Raw as it is; it is an action.

3. Adam, I am the madam who will help you find your way from Ada.

4. Sir, I demand, I am a maid named Iris.

5. No, it is open on one position.

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Pop Quiz Answers

2. No, it can; as it is, it is a war. Raw as it is; it is an action. 

4. Sir, I demand, I am a maid named Iris.

5. No, it is open on one position.

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