Phonetic palindrome

From Infogalactic: the planetary knowledge core
Jump to: navigation, search

A phonetic palindrome is a portion of sound or phrase of speech that is identical or roughly identical when reversed.

Some phonetic palindromes must be mechanically reversed, involving the use of sound recording equipment or reverse tape effects. Another, more abstract type, are words that are identical to the original when separated into their phonetic components (according to a system such as the International Phonetic Alphabet) and reversed.

In English, certain written palindromes also happen to be phonetic palindromes, particularly monosyllabic ones such as mom, dad, and pip. However, this does not guarantee that a reversed recording of any of these words will sound identical to non-reversed speech, because certain pronunciations can cause a shift in the articulation of the vowel, differentiating the beginning from the end in its pitch.


The Hungarian A bátya gatyába ("The brother in underpants") is a phonetic palindrome. The phrase is also a true palindrome because "ty" is originally one letter, although there are two characters. Instead of special or accented characters as in other languages, such as ç, ň, Hungarian uses digraphs. The Spanish phrase "echele leche" (throw/pour/give it milk) is a phonetic palindrome also because "ch" is originally one letter, too, as it occurs in the previous Hungarian example.

A rare known palindrome in which a recorded phrase of speech sounds the same when it is played backwards was discovered by the composer John Oswald in 1974 while he was working on audio tape versions of the cut-up technique using recorded readings by William S. Burroughs. Oswald discovered that in repeated instances of Burroughs speaking the phrase "I got", that the recordings sound nearly identical whether played backward or forward.

In "Words at Play: Quips, Quirks & Oddities",[1] a list of phonetic palindromes the author discovered include "crew work"/"work crew", "dry yard", "easy", "Funny enough", "Let Bob tell", "new moon", "selfless", "Sorry, Ross", "Talk, Scott", "to boot", "top spot" (also a regular palindrome), "Y'all lie", "You're caught. Talk, Roy", and "You're damn mad, Roy".

The Beatles song "Hello, Goodbye" has a phonetic palindrome. The words "say yes" sound the same when played in reverse.

Karsten Johansson's instrumental Wei-Touke[2] contains a lengthy phonetic palindrome before the solo. In both directions, the following poem can be heard: "When I wonder why / What's never been's never been so / We would lie when we say 'Yes, you know we all love you' / What's never been's never been so / Hell, we're nowhere now." Likewise, the line "What's never been's never been so" is also a phonetic palindrome.

See also


  1. O.V. Michaelsen, Sterling Publishing Co., 1998