Want to see something strange? Read on and I’ll show it to you — and then I’ll show you something even stranger, I promise.

A while back this newspaper ran a photo of a man who was considering naming his new cat Taco, and I’d bet you a nickle that he was well aware of the fact that Tacocat spelled backward is Tacocat. In other words, it’s a palindrome, and that’s what we’ll be talking about today — along with its odd little stepchild.

The longest one-word palindrome in the Oxford English Dictionary is “tattarrattat,” a knock at the door, but most palindromes are phrases that generally tend to be a little strange. According to the website businessballs.com (yes, that’s a real thing), “Palindromes tend to become increasingly daft and nonsensical with greater length.” For instance, we’ve got shorter phrases like “Nurses run,” or “Never odd or even,” but before you know it, things have devolved into “Sit on a potato pan, Otis,” “Mr. Owl ate my metal worm,” and “Eva, can I stab bats in a cave?”

Maybe it’s because they’re so strange that palindromes even have their own phobia, aibohphobia (which is, of course, a palindrome — and not recognized by the American Psychiatric Association). Why, some of the “rules” regarding palindromes appear to be that punctuation and capitalization can be ignored when reading a word or phrase backward, and letters can be turned into numbers (and vice versa), if need be.

Keep that in mind when reading the title of this book about palindromes: “I Love Me, Vol. 1,” from which comes what has to be one of the longest palindromes of all: A man, a plan, a cat, a bar, a cap, a mall, a ball, a map, a car, a bat, a canal, Panama.

And now for something completely different (kind of), I give you the semordnilap. By now I’m sure you’ve caught on and realize that “semordnilap” is nothing more than “palindromes” spelled backward. But what is it? It’s a word whose letters, when reversed, spell another word. For example, “swap” becomes “paws,” and “looter” turns into “retool.” The longest semordnilaps (not counting “semordnilap” itself) are “rewarder” and “stressed.”

That’s enough for now. I think we’ve covered the subject forward and backward.

Jim Witherell of Lewiston is a writer and lover of words whose work includes “L.L. Bean: The Man and His Company” and “Ed Muskie: Made in Maine.”


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