Backwards and Forwards

As a wordsmith I have always been fascinated by quirky things about words. It was fun to compete with my school friends to find words which were spelled the same forwards and backwards. For example, civic, level, refer, solos. The real challenge was to find whole sentences which read the same forwards and backwards. In fact, I can only remember one:


The sentence ascribed to Napoleon when he was exiled:

“Able was I ere I saw Elba”

(Did he really speak English!?)

It was thus with some considerable enthusiasm that on a recent visit to Manchester Museum I collected this historical gem.

Manchester Wordsquare pic

This Roman clay tablet is known as the Manchester Wordsquare. It is thought that it was produced around 200 AD and is probably one of the oldest Christian relics ever found in Britain. So what is clever about it?

The Latin inscription reads, “ROTAS OPERA TENET AREPO SATOR”. This means, “Arepo the sower guides the plough with care”.

The inscription is palindromic, that is, it reads the same forwards and backwards. This is impressive, but it does not stop there.

If the Latin words are rearranged in the shape of a cross, they spell the “Paternoster”, the beginning of the Christian Lord’s Prayer. However, there are two letters left over and they are the Latin form of the Greek letters “Alpha” and “Omega”.

Some early Christian was very, very clever.

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