Panama Palindromes

This is probably one of the best known Panama Palindromes ever:

A man, a plan, a canal – Panama!

It first appeared in 1948, but James Puder believes that it must have been discovered before this. Read his Word Ways article: Who First Found The Panama Palindrome? But it is not the only one. In fact there is a whole family of them, some of them very long indeed. In 1983, Jim Saxe added a cat to the list, creating:

A man, a plan, a cat, a canal – Panama!

Here is another one of the best Panama Palindromes.

A yak (a kind of ox) and a yam (a potato-like tuber) can be inserted, lengthening it to:

Here is another one of the best Panama Palindromes.

A man, a plan, a cam, a yak, a yam, a canal – Panama!

Guy Jacobson found two more items that could be added to this extended Panama palindrome, making the 17-word:

A man, a plan, a cat, a ham, a yak, a yam, a hat, a canal – Panama!

The following fantastic version was produced by Guy Steele in 1983. It has 49 words.

Here is another one of the best Panama Palindromes.

A man, a plan, a canoe, pasta, heros, rajahs, a coloratura, maps, snipe, percale, macaroni, a gag, a banana bag, a tan, a tag, a banana bag again (or a camel), a crepe, pins, Spam, a rut, a Rolo, cash, a jar, sore hats, a peon, a canal – Panama!

The following year Dan Hoey used a computer program and the Unix spelling dictionary to generate a 540-word Panama palindrome. It doesn't read so well as the others because the simple program allowed abstract nouns and mass nouns like a ten, a salt and a wax.

Here is a long Panama Palindrome.

A man, a plan, a caret, a ban, a myriad, a sum, a lac, a liar, a hoop, a pint, a catalpa, a gas, an oil, a bird, a yell, a vat, a caw, a pax, a wag, a tax, a nay, a ram, a cap, a yam, a gay, a tsar, a wall, a car, a luger, a ward, a bin, a woman, a vassal, a wolf, a tuna, a nit, a pall, a fret, a watt, a bay, a daub, a tan, a cab, a datum, a gall, a hat, a fag, a zap, a say, a jaw, a lay, a wet, a gallop, a tug, a trot, a trap, a tram, a torr, a caper, a top, a tonk, a toll, a ball, a fair, a sax, a minim, a tenor, a bass, a passer, a capital, a rut, an amen, a ted, a cabal, a tang, a sun, an ass, a maw, a sag, a jam, a dam, a sub, a salt, an axon, a sail, an ad, a wadi, a radian, a room, a rood, a rip, a tad, a pariah, a revel, a reel, a reed, a pool, a plug, a pin, a peek, a parabola, a dog, a pat, a cud, a nu, a fan, a pal, a rum, a nod, an eta, a lag, an eel, a batik, a mug, a mot, a nap, a maxim, a mood, a leek, a grub, a gob, a gel, a drab, a citadel, a total, a cedar, a tap, a gag, a rat, a manor, a bar, a gal, a cola, a pap, a yaw, a tab, a raj, a gab, a nag, a pagan, a bag, a jar, a bat, a way, a papa, a local, a gar, a baron, a mat, a rag, a gap, a tar, a decal, a tot, a led, a tic, a bard, a leg, a bog, a burg, a keel, a doom, a mix, a map, an atom, a gum, a kit, a baleen, a gala, a ten, a don, a mural, a pan, a faun, a ducat, a pagoda, a lob, a rap, a keep, a nip, a gulp, a loop, a deer, a leer, a lever, a hair, a pad, a tapir, a door, a moor, an aid, a raid, a wad, an alias, an ox, an atlas, a bus, a madam, a jag, a saw, a mass, an anus, a gnat, a lab, a cadet, an em, a natural, a tip, a caress, a pass, a baronet, a minimax, a sari, a fall, a ballot, a knot, a pot, a rep, a carrot, a mart, a part, a tort, a gut, a poll, a gateway, a law, a jay, a sap, a zag, a fat, a hall, a gamut, a dab, a can, a tabu, a day, a batt, a waterfall, a patina, a nut, a flow, a lass, a van, a mow, a nib, a draw, a regular, a call, a war, a stay, a gam, a yap, a cam, a ray, an ax, a tag, a wax, a paw, a cat, a valley, a drib, a lion, a saga, a plat, a catnip, a pooh, a rail, a calamus, a dairyman, a bater, a canal – Panama!

More Panama Palindromes:

Many palindromes similar to these Panama Palindromes were discovered years before A man, a plan, a canal – Panama was first published.

In 1899, the following appeared in The Ardmore Puzzler; it is by T. H. Moscow.

A mar on a panorama!

Thirty years later, 1929, a wordsmith named Lubin came up with:

A dog, a panic in a pagoda!

And around 1970 James A. Lindon extended this to:

A dog, a pant, a panic in a Patna pagoda!

(Patna is a city of northeast India on the Ganges River.) Another variation of the Pagoda Palindrome, and the most similar to the famous Panama palindrome, is:

A dog, a plan, a canal: pagoda!

More recently, Edward Wolpow put his twist on it with:

A man appals; I slap Panama!

George Bush's invasion of that country in 1989 inspired:

A man, a pain, a mania, Panama!

And Jon Agee in his 1991 book Go Hang a Salami – I'm a Lasagna Hog, rephrased it as:

A car, a man, a maraca!

It is well-known that Leigh Mercer published his immortal A man, a plan, a canal – Panama! in the November 13 1948 issue of Notes & Queries. But was his the first discovery? We feel it unlikely that these Panama Palindromes remained undiscovered until such a relatively late date. Our feeling is based on the following considerations:

• The name PANAMA has been in the public consciousness since at least 1850, when a land crossing of the isthmus was one of the major routes to the California gold fields. De Lesseps' canal-building attempt in the 1880s, Panama's independence in 1903, and the subsequent U.S. construction of the Panama Canal were among the various events which made Panama a familiar name to any literate person in the Western world.

• The period from 1860 to 1915 witnessed a flowering of public interest in various forms of wordplay and letterplay, including palindromes.

• Words such as PANAMA which alternate vowels and consonants are particularly attractive to palindromists on account of the ease with which they may be palindromized. Words with many As in them are highly valued, since As can serve as indefinite articles in reverse.

• Although it is regarded by many as a brilliant achievement, the fact is that the Panama palindrome virtually writes itself. Reverse PANAMA and you get A MAN, A P—. What's next? If you're like most word players, you're sensitized to rhymes, and so the natural thing to look for is a word which starts with P and rhymes with MAN. There are two common words, PAN and PLAN, and you will probably try both. When you have written down the PLAN version, you will note —NAL PANAMA runs in the other direction. What likely words end in —NAL? Of course, PANAMA immediately suggests CANAL. You write that down, and now you have A MAN, A PLAN, A C— on one side of your palindrome and —CANAL PANAMA on the other. Your palindrome is complete. Despite its serendipitous excellence, it is not a product of genius. Rather, it is mainly the result of the initial decision to try to palindromize PANAMA, after which the complete palindrome almost inevitably follows from the making of one or two easy and obvious decisions.

These are the reasons why we find it hard to believe that it could have taken almost one hundred years for the Panama palindrome to be noticed for the first time. We suspect that at least one previous incarnation of this palindrome lies forgotten in the mouldering pages of some turn-of-the-century journal or newspaper.

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