What is a palindrome? There are a few different types of palindromes, and we will dig into all of them. In this post, we’ll define palindrome, cover the rules that govern the different palindrome styles, and take a look at examples of each type. We will even take a look at a few examples of palindromes in pop culture.

What is a Palindrome

First, let’s define palindrome

Though there are a handful of different types of palindromes, they all follow the same basic principle. We’ll define palindromes overall before digging into the specifics of each type. If you come across any other unfamiliar terms, our ultimate guide to filmmaking terminology is a great resource for looking things up.

PALINDROME DEFINITION

What is a palindrome?

A palindrome is a sequence of letters, numbers, or whole words that reads the same forwards as it does backwards.

Words that are the Same Backwards

Rules of Palindromes

The basics of palindromes are quite simple, though there are a couple of governing rules that determine true palindromes and distinguish between different types of palindromes.

Palindrome defined with examples  •  palindrome meaning

A palindrome can be a single word or a series of words, like a sentence. Punctuation does not factor into a palindrome. Palindromes can also be constructed out of numbers, and entire mathematical equations can be palindromes. There are also prime palindromes which are prime numbers that also happen to be palindromes.

Most palindromes are character-based, meaning each letter is mirrored front-to-back. But, there are also word-based palindromes as well. In a word-based palindrome, a sequence of isolated words is repeated front-to-back without the individual letters mirroring each other. 

To get a clearer picture of this, let’s look at some examples.

What is a Palindrome Word

Palindrome Examples

The simplest palindromes are number based. 212, 52025, and 1195468645911 are all palindromes. There is a virtually infinite amount of number-based palindromes. Numbers such as 131, 787, and 919 are examples of prime palindromes.

Now, let’s look at a few one-word palindromes. Rotor, racecar, kayak, madam, and civic are all palindromes. But palindromes don’t have to stop at just one word; entire phrases, sentences, or poems can be palindromic. The sentences: “Was it a car or a cat I saw?”, “Do geese see God?”, and “Are we not drawn onward, we few, drawn onward to new era?” are all palindromes.

Visualizing palindromes  •  palindrome sentences

So far, we’ve been looking at character-based palindromes. Now, let’s look at a few word-based palindromes. In these examples, each word is mirrored without the individual letters being perfectly mirrored in order. The sentences: “King, are you glad you are king?”, “First ladies rule the State and state the rule: ladies first.”, and “Is it crazy how saying sentences backwards creates backwards sentences saying how crazy it is?” are examples of word-based palindromes.

Next, let’s examine a few palindromes that have appeared in popular media.

Palindrome Words

Palindromes in Media

The peculiar nature of palindromes precludes them from appearing in too many movies and television shows as literary devices, but they do appear in pop culture from time to time. Comedian Demetri Martin has a fascination with Palindromes and has created a number of them.

Demetri Martin palindromes  •  what is palindrome example

For his book, funnily titled This is a Book, he wrote a number of palindromes including: “Snub no man. Nice cinnamon buns!”, “P.U.! Organisms in a group.”, and “Emit debris, sir. Bedtime.” He has also created a number of extremely lengthy palindromes, including the 500-word palindrome pictured below.

Demetri Martins word palindrome

Demetri Martin’s 500-word palindrome  •  palindrome sentences

Palindromes do not always have to be quite so literal. Something can be palindromic on a story or thematic level without necessarily being an exact mirror image. Christopher Nolan’s Tenet is not just palindromic in its title but also in its structure and in a number of individual scenes which are repeated in reverse. See how Christopher Nolan uses circular film structure, below.

Circular filmmaking with Christopher Nolan  •  Subscribe on YouTube

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri isn’t structured from end-to-end as a palindrome but it does feature a palindromic sequence near the midpoint of the film to bridge a major narrative shift.

Palindromic scene in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri analyzed  •  What is a Palindrome

The following short film takes this idea to the extreme. Symmetry is presented as a perfect palindrome, where the second half of the film is a literal mirror image of the first half.

Palindrome short film  •  palindrome meaning

Even music can be palindromic. In his Bob Dylan parody, palindromically titled Bob, Weird Al constructs a song entirely out of palindromes.

Weird Al’s palindrome song  •  Bob

Even beyond lyrics, the musical notes themselves can be used to form a palindrome with enough time and care spent composing. This symphony composed by Joseph Hadyn is a musical palindrome.

A palindrome symphony  •  define palindrome

As you can see and hear, the limits of palindromes are more far-reaching then they at first seem. Have fun playing around with palindromes and see what you can create.

UP NEXT

What is Alliteration?

Now that you have a thorough grasp of palindromes, why not learn about another form of stylistic writing. What is alliteration? Learn our definition, how to use alliteration, and check out some of the best examples from literature and film, up next.

Up Next: What is Alliteration? →
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