Fun with palindromes

Palindromes (the "mirror image" words and phrases) are fun to read and write with kids!

WORDPLAY and word games can reenergize kids who feel bogged down with school work. If you need a break from formal writing activities this week, gather the family together for some fun with palindromes!

A palindrome is any word or phrase that reads the same either forward or backward. A few single-word examples are bib, civic, radar, level, and mom. The challenge of creating longer, multi-word palindromes (such as a nut for a jar of tuna) often produces hilarious results!

The ancient Greeks and Romans quite enjoyed this kind of wordplay. Archeologists discovered a palindrome on a stone tablet in the ruins of Pompeii, a Roman city destroyed in 79 AD. The stone reads: “Sator Arepo tenet opera rotas” (roughly translated as “sower Arepo works with the help of a wheel”). 2000 years later, people like Leigh Mercer were still playing with palindromes—he published this famous phrase in 1948: “A man, a plan, a canal: Panama!”

Did You Know?

  • The longest single-word English palindrome—according to the Oxford English Dictionary—is tattarrattat (an onomatopoeia-type word for knocking on the door).
  • According to the Guinness Book of World records, the longest single-word English palindrome is detartrated (past tense for removing tartrates).
  • One of the world’s longest palindromes was generated by a computer program in 2007. It contains 17,826 words!

A Palindrome Writing Game

  1. Give each family member a piece of paper, and ask everyone to write down a 3-letter palindrome (such as eye).
  2. Now pass the papers to the left, and ask everyone to write down a 4-letter palindrome (such as noon).
  3. Pass the papers to the left again, and ask everyone to write down a palindromic proper name (such as Lil or Bob).
  4. Pass the papers to the left again. Ask each person to use all three words in a sentence. (Example: Take LIL to the EYE doctor at NOON.)
  5. Start a new round, or continue adding single-word palindromes to your existing sentences. (WOW! LIL SEES the EYE doctor at NOON!)

For an extra challenge, older students can try their hands at writing multi-word palindromes. Remember, the phrase or sentence must sound the same whether you read the letters forward or backward. For tips on getting started, read more about the original “Panama” palindrome.

Remember that with longer palindromes, punctuation and word spaces don’t matter—just the actual letters.

For More Reading…

Photo: Steven Depolo, courtesy of Creative Commons
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