Possessing taken up wordsmithing at the tender age of 11, when I signed up for my first Latin course, it is unsurprising that my heart skipped a conquer when I initially read about the motion picture “Tenet,” launched to streaming very last thirty day period. Not only was it another sci-fi puzzler from writer-director Christopher Nolan, who experienced specified us “Inception” (2010) and “Interstellar” (2014), but its title was in origin a Latin word, tenet from tenere, “to grab maintain of or grasp.” A TENET is a belief we hold onto with TENacity and whose truth of the matter we TENaciously Maintain.
The language of the historical Romans has contributed about 100,000 words to our English vocabulary—like the noun VOCabulary by itself, which indicates pretty much “what we contact points,” from Latin vocare/to simply call (source also of VOCation, our experienced “calling”). But as opposed to conVOCation (calling together), reVOKe (to phone again), and other these types of derivatives from vocare, TENET is one of various thousand popular English words and phrases that have appear from Latin letter-for-letter, with no spelling improve at all (some many others are stomach, benefactor, campus, deficit, quota, and victor).
But, even a lot more intriguing for term-nerds like me (and maybe you, since you are nonetheless examining this!), is that TENET is palindromic, which means it’s spelled the very same backwards and forwards. The time period palinDROMe derives from a Greek phrase that indicates “running/dromos back yet again,” like the chariot-racing observe Greeks and Romans known as a HIPPoDROMe (from hippos/horse, which presents us also HIPPopotamus, basically a “river-horse”).
We have tons of these again-and-forth terms in English, which include small types like mother/father/eye/pop/noon/kayak/amount/radar. Then there’s my beloved 80s pop band ABBA, and names like Anna/Ava/Bob/Eve/Hannah/Otto. Some more time types involve deified/racecar/repaper, and “tattarrattat,” coined by James Joyce in Ulysses for the seem of a knock at the doorway, possibly the longest palindromic term in English.
There are palindromic phrases far too, like “never odd or even,” the beer “Regal Lager,” and the well-recognized “a man, a system, a canal, Panama,” a single of dozens made by British palindromist Leigh Mercer (1893–1977). Mercer even gave us the sentence palindromes “Madam, in Eden I’m Adam” and, a single for Roman historians, “Draw, O Caesar – erase a coward!” When Barack Obama was to start with managing for President in 2008 and I noticed a bumper sticker with just the name OBAMA, I instantaneously assumed, Which is the reverse of amabo, Latin for “I will enjoy,” and I designed my possess palindrome (which has considering the fact that appeared on t-shirts and these): OBAMA AMABO, “I’ll enjoy Obama!”
Another favorite comes with a particular anecdote. Our classics office at the University of Georgia has for decades administered a studies overseas plan in Rome. One summer time years ago a scholar named Elba, notorious between the college as a clingy busybody, resolved to enroll. When the program’s director returned at summer’s finish and I questioned how the courses had absent, his quick reply, in a mock somber tone, was “Able was I ere I saw Elba” (an allusion to Napoleon’s exile attributed to a single J.T.R. in an 1848 problem of The Gazette of the Union).
But again to Nolan’s film: not only is its title palindromic, so way too are important things of the plot. The story’s people race back again and forth by time actions are frequently reversed fired bullets can be unfired and “inverted” back again into the weapons that shot them.
The screenplay’s thematic features, settings, and even character names were being straight motivated, it turns out, by a 2,000-yr aged palindromic sq. observed on two buildings in Pompeii and somewhere else throughout the Roman Empire from England to Syria. The so-named SATOR-ROTAS square seems to be like this, its 5 stacked five-letter terms forming a Latin sentence:
Reading through remaining to ideal, top rated to base, Sator Arepo tenet opera rotas means “The sower Arepo retains the wheels by way of his effort and hard work.”
But glimpse once again: the square reads just the identical commencing with the base row and looking at the words and phrases suitable to still left and upwards: ROTAS reversed is SATOR, OPERA turns into AREPO, and so on. And the very same is true reading just about every vertical column down, and still left to ideal, and then also in reverse, looking at the fifth vertical column up, then the fourth, and so forth., so the similar sentence recurs in four distinctive directions, an astonishing palindromical sq.! It’s no question that mystics in historic situations believed the inscription experienced magical, apotropaic qualities.
Let’s consider a speedy appear at each individual of the sentence’s five text. Sator, related to SEmen/inSEminate, intended pretty much a “sower” of seed. But it also intended “progenitor”: the 1st-century B.C. epic poet Vergil had called the sky-god Jupiter hominum sator atque deorum, “begetter of men and of gods,” and early Christians likewise determined the SATOR square’s “sower” as God, creator of the earth who with divine could steers the wheels of the universe. Noticing that the inscription included only the eight various letters discovered in Pater noster, “our Father,” the opening words of the Lord’s Prayer, afterwards Christians devised a cross-shaped anagram employing those letters, with the additional A’s and O’s to the facet, representing Alpha and Omega, the starting and conclude.
The noun sator encouraged the name of 1 of the “Tenet” film’s main gamers, the villainous Russian oligarch Andrei Sator. Of the inscription’s other 4 terms, Arepo, seemingly a Roman title like Cicero and Cato, is the identify Nolan gave the Spanish artist who solid a Goya drawing Sator had bought. TENET – 10 and 10 in reverse – is the firm whose operatives need to traverse time to save the entire world from total destruction by Sator’s lethal Plutonium 241 “algorithm” product.
The square’s future phrase, opera, refers to start with to the exertion included in completing a activity, then to the activity by itself, and, from the 17th century onward, to an OPERatic musical creation. The film’s opening sequence normally takes spot in the Kiev opera dwelling and references to opera recur afterwards in the class of the movie’s two-and-a person-50 percent hour run-time.
At last, Latin rota/wheel, resource of ROTary/ROTate/ROTor, flawlessly suits the storyline’s ROTational plot the type of the word viewed in the sq., rotas, turns up in “Rotas Safety,” the agency charged with safeguarding the warehouses in which Sator experienced stored his art.
In a bizarre coincidence, the evening my spouse Alice and I watched “Tenet,” the working day after New Year’s, 1-2-21, was a palindrome, 1221. And our recent, luckily peaceful presidential inauguration transpired on a uncommon seven-digit palindromic working day, 1202021/1-20-2021, the very first inaugural palindrome date in U.S. background, according to new articles or blog posts in the Farmer’s Almanac and Usa Currently, and the last right up until 1-20-3021, a millennium from now.
In fact we are, as I produce, in the midst of a 10-working day series of these types of dates starting with that 1-20-21 and ending with 1-29-21 in December we’ll have the nine-day run from 12-1-21 by way of 12-9-21, as nicely as 12-11-21, and finally Alice’s birthday, 12-22-21! This flurry of palindromic dates can happen only in decades ending with -11 and -21, so if it would seem you’ve been heading in circles currently, the explanation could be, not just pandemics and politics, but palindromics way too.
It turns out that palindromes can involve not just reversals of quantities and letters but even of phrases, like “is it mad how declaring sentences backwards results in backwards sentences saying how ridiculous it is?” If all this is creating you just a minimal little bit insane, here’s a well timed tenet to Maintain you: “live on time, emit no evil.” But hold out – tattarrattat – is that a fats rat at my doorway?
Rick LaFleur is retired from 40 years of educating Latin language and literature at the University of Ga, which in the course of his tenure arrived to have the premier Latin enrollment of all of the nation’s colleges and universities his latest guides are The Key Lives of Words, a selection of 60 of these essays, expanded with additional than 250 illustrations, and Ubi Fera Sunt, a energetic, lovingly wrought translation into classical Latin of Maurice Sendak’s basic, The place the Wild Items Are. Rick and his spouse Alice reside aspect of the yr in Apalachicola, less than the watchful view of their French bulldog Ipsa.