Palindrome – Wait a Sec! Rewind That, Please

palindrome literary device

Palindromes, in this writer’s opinion, are perhaps the funnest literary device used by writers. Backwards, forwards, right-side up or upside down makes no difference. It’s all the same. Literally. Although perhaps, with a different meaning the second time around. Say what!

What is Palindrome?

At its core, a  palindrome is a literary device in which a word, phrase, or sentence reads the same backward and forward. It is often used as a form of wordplay and can be found in literature, poetry, and song lyrics. Seems simple, right. However, it’s trickier than you think.

How to pronounce Palindrome?

Palindrome is pronounced pa·luhn·drowm. The word is derived from the combination of two Greek words. “Palin,” meaning “back” or “again” and “dromos,” meaning “route” or “road.”

When do writers use Palindrome?

A palindrome is a literary device in which a word, phrase, or sentence reads the same backward and forward. Writers often use palindromes to create a sense of symmetry or to emphasize a particular point. Palindromes can also be used to create a humorous effect or to add a layer of complexity to a text.

Is There More Than One Type of Palindrome?

There are a whopping 9 different types of palindrome in English (at least). For such a fun tool, it can become rather complicated. Below, each type is listed and briefly explained.

  • Line – These types of palindrome are most commonly found in poems. Typically, the initial set of lines reverses order about halfway through the poem without changing the word order within each line.
  • Name – This a pretty easy category to recognize as most of us have encountered at least one, if not more in our lifetimes. Palindromes of this type consist of a name, usually the first, that reads the same backward and forward. Example: Hannah, Bob, Eve, etc.
  • Numeric – While notably less common, sets of numbers can also be palindromic. Examples include: 101, 10101, and dates such as 02/02/2020.
  • Word-unit – Word-unit palindromes occur in phrases that read the same backward and forward. One such example is: “murder for a jar of red rum.” This type may also appear in sentence form which is explained in more detail below.
  • Character-unit – Also called word palindromes, this type consists of a single word that reads the same both backward and forward. Examples” “kayak” and “noon”
  • Musical – Musical composition may also be palindromic in that it, too, reverses itself and repeats. A classic example of a musical palindrome is Joseph Haydn’s symphony No. 47.  The second halves of the minuet and trio are identical to the first halves but backward.
  • Palindrome poetry – Also called “mirrored poetry,” the defining feature of this type of palindrome is that it uses line palindromes in poetic form in the initial poem and then, around the halfway mark, that singular line reverses the rest of the lines in order.
  • Palindrome sentences – While technically a type of word-unit palindrome, this type occurs in full sentence form complete with a subject, verb, and predicate. Example: “Did I say, ‘you never say never?’ You say I did.”
  • Semordnilap – The word palindrome is this type of palindrome meaning that palindrome spelled backwards is semordnilap, or that any word that is spelled backwards creates another word. Another example is the word “desserts.” Backwards, “desserts” spells “stressed.”

Palindrome in Literature and Poetry 📚

Interesting little tidbit from history. The first English palindromic sentence was written in 1614 and reads, “Lewd did I live and evil did I dwel.” What is interesting, is what can only be attributed to the popularity of the literary device, there is some contention regarding who actually wrote the sentence in 1614.While John Taylor is by far the person most commonly awarded the honor, the attribution is also given to at least two other writers. Who knows?

While the palindrome has a variety of uses and techniques, it is a fact that those who master the palindromic poem possess true genius.  Among those given this great honor, we may include Natasha Trethewey and her poem “Myth.”

I was asleep while you were dying.

It’s as if you slipped through some rift, a hollow

I make between my slumber and my waking,

the Erebus I keep you in, still trying

not to let go. You’ll be dead again tomorrow,

but in dreams you live. So I try taking

you back into morning. Sleep-heavy, turning,

my eyes open, I find you do not follow.

Again and again, this constant forsaking.


Again and again, this constant forsaking:

my eyes open, I find you do not follow.

You back into morning, sleep-heavy, turning.

But in dreams you live. So I try taking,

not to let go. You’ll be dead again tomorrow.

The Erebus I keep you in—still, trying—

I make between my slumber and my waking.

It’s as if you slipped through some rift, a hollow.

I was asleep while you were dying.

What is interesting about this poem, and probably not as difficult as including palindromic sentences, is that the poem is mirrored. At exactly the halfway point, the poem reverses itself and the reader reads it backward.

Another great example of this is the poem, “Witches Burn,” by Robert Lee Brewer. Note how each line is a palindrome in itself while the poem is read backwards after the word “Darkness.”

Gypsies tell girls,

‘Witches burn candles,’

and laugh. Cats

jump fences.

Shadows cast spells in


in spells cast shadows.

‘Fences jump, cats laugh,

and candles burn witches,’

girls tell gypsies.

Palindrome in Children’s Literature 🧸

In children’s literature, there is a whole category dedicated to the palindrome, Unfortunately, it appears that this extends predominantly to book titles. So in the spirit of due diligence, here are 8 children’s book titles that are palindromes.

  • Mom
  • Pop
  • Eve
  • Ada
  • Madam
  • Maddaddam
  • Toot
  • Hannah

And yes, while simple, each and every one of these is a legitimate children’s book title. I swear!

Palindrome in Songs 🎧

“Bob,” Weird Al Yankovic – The song is not only a parody on the literary tool palindrome, but the song is one and the artist includes several examples of palindromic words and phrases in the visual of the video.

After that shining example, really, what else needs to be said?

Tips for Writing Palindrome Poetry ✍🏽

As you now know, there are a variety of palindromes to choose from. While writers may choose to keep it simple, the gold star of palindromic use goes to those who master the art of palindromic poetry. Collected from the masters, we’ve composed a list of tips to achieve your very best result. Have a look below:

  • Read other palindromic poetry.
  • Do your research.
  • Combine forms.
  • Perfect your first line.
  • If still not sure where to begin? Read some poetry.

Now, let’s dig into some oldies but goodies.

Palindrome in Film and Pop Culture 🎥

In film, palindromes are significantly more difficult to detect and flesh out. Thankfully, Director Christopher Nolan helps us out on this one.

Tenet (2020) – The film’s title is not only a palindrome, but as director Christopher Nolan explains, scenes are often repeated and played in reverse over the course of the movie.

And then from Pop Culture, check out this short referencing the 2-player board game:

“Taco cat” short –

And in Other News … Related Literary Terms 👥

  • Anagram – A word, phrase, or name formed when the letters of another word have been rearranged. Example: “cinema’ is formed from “iceman”
  • Mirror poetry – Created from line palindromes repeat and perfectly mirror one each other.
What is a palindrome in literature?

A palindrome is a word, phrase, number, or other sequences of characters that reads the same forward and backward, ignoring spaces, punctuation, and capitalization. In literature, palindromes are often used for stylistic flair, to add layers of meaning, or simply as a form of wordplay.

How does a palindrome enhance a text?

Palindromes enhance a text by adding an element of pattern and symmetry, which can be pleasing to the reader both visually and cognitively. They can also contribute to the thematic elements of a work, suggesting ideas of cycles, mirroring, or duality.

Can palindromes be found in both poetry and prose?

Yes, palindromes can be found in both poetry and prose. In poetry, they might be used to emphasize the form and structure or to mirror themes. In prose, palindromes might appear in character names, places, or within the narrative as a playful or symbolic element.

Why do writers use palindromes?

Writers use palindromes to play with language, to create memorable phrases or names, and to engage the reader with linguistic puzzles. Additionally, they can serve symbolic purposes, representing themes of balance, unity, or the cyclical nature of events.

How can I identify a palindrome in a text?

To identify a palindrome, look for sequences of characters that remain the same when their order is reversed. This can apply to single words, entire sentences, or even longer passages. Checking for palindromes involves reading the text forwards and then backwards, noting the consistency in sequence regardless of direction.