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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Palindromists Celebrate 20.02.2002

For some, Wednesday the 20th of February was just another day. But for the backward-looking, it was a once-in-a-lifetime event.

The date 20.02.2002 is a member of that rare club of dates that read the same forward and backward, known as palindromic dates. Add in the time of 20:02, and the symmetrically minded were especially pleased.

Such a date last occurred only 11 years ago in 1991. Before that, you would have to go back 110 years to 1881. Palindromic dates occur once every 100 years, except at the end of the millennium, when two appear within 20 years. There won't be another until 2112.

"I came into the office today and [my office colleagues] told me it was a lucky day, and I should sign [and date] documents," said Alexander Tkachenko, the general secretary of the Russian PEN center, explaining how he observed the palindromic day.

We are the few who -- along with those around at the end of the first millennium -- will experience two palindromic dates in a lifetime.

However, the date hardly caused fireworks around the world. Half the world, after all, uses different calendars, and the date is written 02.20.2002 in the United States.

But a world harmony day was celebrated in Singapore, and it has caused much excitement for fans of literary palindromes.

The Palindromist magazine, based in Portland, Oregon, issued a special diary in memory of the event with palindromic gems, old and new, such as Leigh Mercer's "A man, a plan, a canal Panama!" in 1914 to "Stressed? No tips? Spit on desserts!" written by filmmaker Thomas Comerford and appearing May 21, National Waitstaff Day, in the diary.

Palindromes have been around since ancient times when, as the story goes, Greek versifier Sotades the Obscene of Maronea invented them around the third century B.C. Sotades quickly lived up to his name and when one of his scurrilous palindromic verses offended King Ptolemy II, he not only received a very bad review, he was wrapped in lead and thrown into the sea.

Russian web sites are full of palindromic experiments and celebrations of the art form, whether in a list of basic palindromic words -- e.g. ono (it), ded (grandfather) to childhood favorites like tort c kofe ne fokctrot(cake and coffee is no foxtrot) or ya em zmeya (I'm eating a snake).

There is, after all, a long tradition of Russian writers playing with palindromes from Nobel Prize-winning author Vladimir Nabokov to futurist poet Velimir Khlebnikov.

"Khlebnikov had a whole poem in palindromes," said Tkachenko. "You can read his poem from one end to the other. He was a genius."

Modern post-Soviet writers have taken to the palindrome, according to an article on the Palindromist web site by Erika Greber, an academic at the University of Munich, as an artistic form that "can demonstrate the reversibility of time and an incantation of the symmetry of form directed against the imponderabilities of social change."

Others, of course, could be just having fun -- "Palindrom -- ni mord ni lap" (A palindrome has neither snout nor paw).