Le grand palindrome.

Fond as I am of Georges Perec (whose name, despite what many believe, does not have an accent aigu, even though it is pronounced as if it had one, [peʁɛk] — Perec is the Polish spelling of the name usually anglicized as Peretz, and once the family moved to France it got Frenchified in pronunciation), I was unaware of his “grand palindrome” of 1,247 words (5,566 letters), which you can read here (note once again that his name does not have an accent aigu, even though it is pronounced as if it had one). I suppose someone could translate the whole thing, but apparently only the beginning and end have been rendered into English, by David Bellos (his biographer) and Harry Mathews (his friend and fellow Oulipian), as quoted in this 2011 blog post by Stephen Saperstein Frug. The former begins:

Trace the uneven palindrome. Snow. A trifle, says Hercules. Unadorned repentance, this piece born [of] Perec. [If] the bow of reading is too heavy, read back-to-front.

The latter (and better):

Trace the unequal palindrome. Snow. A trifle, Hercules would say. Rough penitence, this writing born as Perec. The read arch is too heavy: read vice-versa….

For the renditions of the ending, as well as some jovial discussion, follow the link to Frug’s post. Thanks, David!


  1. Doesn’t Perec’s palindrome fail in French? If you have to ignore the accents and punctuation is it really a true palindrome? I get that that might seem a harsh judgement on what is an impressive effort, and maybe French is not really a great palindromic language. Not like Mandarin.

  2. I’m sure ignoring the punctuation isn’t a problem (do any palindromes longer than a few words keep the punctuation?), but I’ll have to let French speakers weigh in on the accents. My immediate reaction is that if Perec expended that much effort on it, he must have thought it was acceptable.

  3. Aha, French Wikipedia: “Il est communément admis que l’on ne tient pas compte des signes diacritiques (accents, trémas, cédilles) ni des espaces.”

  4. From the same source:

    Le mot « palindrome » lui-même peut s’inscrire dans des palindromes autoréférents : « caser vite ce palindrome ne mord ni lape cet ivre sac », ou « ni palindrome ne mord ni lapin ». Georges Perec l’a également utilisé dans le long palindrome publié dans La Clôture.

  5. Scrabble and crosswords in French also omit accents and split ligatures.

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