Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Litigator's Palindrome

(A version of this article appeared in the July/Aug edition of Lexpert.  Feel free to submit legal palindromes even if you don't know the difference between a litigator and an alligator)

                                   THE LITIGATOR'S PALINDROME
Twenty years ago I had an epiphany. It occurred to me that the year in question, 1991, was a palindromic year and the first one I had ever experienced. Perhaps buoyed by this revelation and the fact that I would be privileged to live through another palindromic year eleven years hence, I composed a series of palindromic poems that were published the next year. In fact, the first book I ever had published was called The Dead Sea Scroll Palindromes in which I created a series of supposed biblical sayings as a means of lampooning those who find predictive passages in the Bible.

In case you are not familiar with the word palindrome, let me explain that it is a word, phrase, passage or number that reads the same forward or backward. Examples of palindromes are the words “civic,” “rotator,” the language “Malayalam” and the sentences “Sums are not set as a test on Erasmus” and “Step on no pets. ” The word palindrome derives from the Greek palindromos,which translates as “running back again.” I absolutely refudiate the notion that it is connected to Sarah Palin.

Sotades, a Thracian iconoclastic poet, is generally credited with inventing palindromic sentences. This accounts for the alternate name for palindromes, “Sotadics.” Sotades, however, burst one balloon too many. He made the mistake of dissing the Egyptian king Ptolemy II in one of his palindromes. The humourless king didn’t appreciate Sotades’ wit and had him stuffed inside a lead chest and thrown in the sea.

The majority of palindromes seem to be written in Latin and English but their use is not unknown to other languages. For example we have the French, “Elu par cette crapule” (Elected by this s**t) and the German, “Ein neger mit gazelle zagt im regen nie” (A black man with a gazelle doesn't hesitate in the rain.)

One of the best known English palindromes is attributed to an enisled Anglophilic Napoleon who is purported to have intoned “Able was I ere I saw Elba.” Perhaps inspired by the immortality Napoleon attained by his palindromic lament, 20th-century politicians and leaders have had a penchant for palindromic ejaculations. Curiously, even the ones penned by Farsi and German speakers are in English. Here is a sampling (some of which are undoubtedly apocryphal attributions):

In a regal age ran I.” (Kaiser Willhelm II discussing his daily jogs; 1911)

A man, a plan, a canal — Panama.”(Woodrow Wilson dedicates the opening of the Panama Canal to its chief engineer, George Washington Goethals; 1914.)

Jar a tonga; nag not a raj.”(Winston Churchill admonishes Mahatma Gandhi; 1942.)

Can I attain a C?” (Attributed to Prince Charles in his quest for mediocrity while attending Cambridge ;1967.)

To last, Carter retracts a lot.”(During his presidential debate with Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford charges his opponent with vacillation; 1976.)

No evil shahs live on.” (Attributed to Ayatollah Khoumeini; 1979.)

Drat! Saddam, a mad dastard.”(President George H.W. Bush expresses his disdain for Saddam Hussein; 1991.)

No,’in uneven union!”(In a speech to the Monarchist League of Canada, Jacques Parizeau affirms that he will no longer tolerate a second-class status for Quebec; 1995.)

Rise to vote, sir.” (Speaker of the House Gib Parent advises a Bloc backbencher that his vote won't count if cast in a prone position; 1999)

Unfortunately, few ancient palindromes are still known. One that has survived was probably printed on the business cards of ancient Roman lawyers and an inspiration to litigators. It read “Si nummi, immunis,” which translates roughly as “Pay me and I’ll get you off.”

A modern version of this would be: “Tie, tag it; I’ll litigate it,” which translates as “Come up with a lawsuit and I’ll defend you in court.”

Some other legal palindromes include:

Joy, O.J.” (Attributed to Johnnie Cochrane upon Simpson’s 1996 acquittal.)

No, sir.Prison.” (A judge refuses probation.)

Sex at noon taxes.” (To fight the deficit, Finance Minister Flaherty imposes a tax on lunch-hour hanky-panky.)

Sex at one —no taxes.” (After discovering that some Cabinet colleagues are flouting this edict, Flahertylimits the time period from 12:00 to 1:00.)

Lexpert readers are asked to come up with a palindrome with a legal flavour to it, or at least one that whose palindromic theme can be explained. The author of the best palindromic entry will receive a copy of my latest book. Please send your entries to hrichler@gmail.com.

Howard Richler’s latest book is Strange Bedfellows: The Private Lives of Words.

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