A few months back, my daughter, Helen, bought me an activity fitness tracker; you know, one of those gizmos you wear on your wrist and it tells you how many steps you’ve walked, the distance travelled, the number of calories burnt, the time of day, and, if you’re lucky, whether you’ve won the lottery. She apologised for buying me the tracker, saying, “I know you don’t like these gadgets but just try it. You need to walk at least 10,000 steps a day.” Helen was right. I’d grown lazy, put on a bit of weight, indulged in too many fine wines and craft beers, needed a shake-up. She was also right in that I’ve looked at these trackers, Fitbit especially, and concluded they were just very expensive pedometers accompanied by clever marketing. I’ve used pedometers in the past to measure walking distances. All they do is count the number of steps you take. If you assume an average distance-travelled value for a standard step (75 cm in most cases), you can convert the step count into distance and making further assumptions about age, weight and sex, convert the distance walked into calories burnt. It’s all very iffy and butty but here’s the thing; fitness trackers are great motivators to get you out there pounding the trails. In that respect, Helen’s gift did the trick. I’ve got out and pounded the trails and lost 35 lb (just under 16 kg) in the process so “Thank you,” daughter dear.
But that’s not the focus of this blog. The fitness tracker my daughter bought me is made by Yamay Electronics, a Hong Kong-based company manufacturing a range of small electronic gadgets. What caught my attention was the word Yamay. If you spell it all upper case using a non-sloping font—YAMAY—you will notice two things. First, the word is a palindrome (spells the same forwards and backwards, like NOON, KAYAK, MADAM and even James Joyce’s famous knock on the door, TATTARATTAT). Second, and more interestingly, if you write the word on a piece of paper and hold it up to a mirror, you get… YAMAY. Each upper-case letter is symmetrical about a vertical axis. That got me thinking. How many letters in the standard 26-character Latin alphabet possess this property? The answer is eleven: A H I M O T U V W X Y. We can form many common words using just these letters—MOTH, HOAX, MAHOUT, AHOY, MOUTHY, ATOM, AXIOM…, and even short sentences—I’M WITH YOU, YOU WAIT…—but I can find no other palindrome based just on these letters. YAMAY appears to be unique in possessing both the vertically symmetric and palindromic properties. I wonder if the founders of the company know this?
Some letters in the Latin alphabet exhibit horizontal symmetry: B C D E H I K O X. We can form words from these letters, such as ICEBOX, DECIDED, HIDE and CHOICE, but if we hold these words up to a mirror, they will just look backwards. A mirror reverses the vertical (left-to-right) axis, not the horizontal (up-to-down) axis. But, even if we had a horizontal reversal mirror, I can find no palindromic word based just on the horizontally symmetrical letters. DECIDED comes close but, unfortunately, DEDICED is not a word (unless you think it might mean to undo the dicing of something already diced!) If it were a valid word, DECIDED would be classed as a semi-palindrome or, as some would have it, a semordnilap (palindromes spelt backwards).
Words based on vertical or horizontal symmetrical letters are examples of ambigrams; words that possess one or more symmetries when written or viewed in different ways. When Sun Microsystems got started in 1982, their logo was a clever rotational combination of the word SUN:
Alternatively, treat yourself to a fitness tracker and go pound the trails. If you buy a YAMAY tracker, you can walk backwards and still reach your destination!