What is a palindrome? Actually, there are a few different types and we will dig into all of them. In this post, we’ll define palindrome, cover the rules that govern the different 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. Let’s get into it!
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.
What is a palindrome?
A palindrome is a sequence of letters, numbers, or whole words that reads the same forwards as it does backwards.
- 123454321 (numbers)
- Race car, kayak (letters)
- Hannah, Otto, Ava, Bob (names)
- King, are you glad you are King? (words)
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.
A palindrome can be a single word or a series of words, like a sentence. Punctuation does not factor into whether or not a sentence qualifies. Palindromes can also be constructed out of numbers, as can entire mathematical equations. There are also prime palindromes which are constructed with prime numbers (e.g., 131, 787, and 919).
Most palindromes are character-based, meaning each letter is mirrored front-to-back. But, there are also word-based examples 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
The simplest palindromes are number based, like 212, 52025, and 1195468645911. There is a virtually infinite amount of number-based examples.
Now, let’s look at a few one-word examples like rotor, racecar, kayak, madam, and civic. But they 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 examples.
So far, we’ve been looking at character-based examples. 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 examples that have appeared in popular media.
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 is fascinated with these oddities and has created comedic material with them.
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 examples, including the 500-word example pictured below.
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. For example, this iconic fight scene plays twice in the film, once "forward" and once "reversed."
Watch the video breakdown to see what that looks like on screen.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri doesn't have a reversible structure from end-to-end, but it does feature a palindromic sequence near the midpoint to bridge a major narrative shift.
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.
Even music can be palindromic. In his Bob Dylan parody, palindromically titled Bob, Weird Al constructs a song entirely out of letters and words that are the same backwards.
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 example of forward and backward symmetry.
As you can see and hear, the limits of palindromes are more far-reaching then they at first seem. Have fun playing around with this creative and odd technique and see what you can create.
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.