第414課: Inverted Words (倒語)

The word “verlan” is the French phrase “à l’envers” with its syllables inverted. In turn, it has been borrowed into English to refer to the phenomenon of syllable inversion in other languages. The technical word for this in Japanese is 倒語, and it is more widely known as 逆読み・逆さ読み.

These sorts of readings have existed in Japanese for some time. The purpose of this inversion is to bring about some sort of emphasis. This sort of change is seen in various parts of any language regardless of one’s generation. Though the use of these inversions is quite varied, they are generally treated as in-group lingo or 隠語. In Japanese 隠語 typically have negative stereotypes attached to them, and they will almost certainly only be known and used by a small group of people.

These sorts of words become most popular in Japan during the 江戸時代. Examples that were later passed down to the present day as the common word include しだらない (slovenly) → だらしない. Others that didn’t quite catch on include words like キセル (tobacco pipe) → セルキ. Other examples like タネ (seed/subject matter) → ネタ ((joke) material/topping of nigirizushi) resulted into words with (slightly) different meanings.

These words got some publicity in the 1980s due to broadcast writers who previously wrote memos to publications (ハガキ職人) utilizing such expressions. A common example at the name was calling 六本木 ギロッポン. 

It’s also important to note that at an individual level, 逆さ読み come about naturally.  


Below is a list of examples. Over time, notes of usage and example sentences will be added. Some of these words are r-rated words, but they are examples nonetheless of this phenomenon. Thus, they will be noted.

 倒語 意味 倒語 意味 倒語 意味 倒語 意味
 ロイク 黒人 ナオン 女 チャンカー お母さん チャンネー お姉さん
 チャンバー おばあさん ザギン 銀座  オカジュー 自由が丘 ワイハ ハワイ
 ジャーマネ マネージャー シータク タクシー クーイ 行く ミーノ 飲む
 ダータ ただ ラーハ 腹 リーヘ 減る シーメ 飯
 ベルター 食べる マイウー うまい チョイモー もうちょい シーホー  欲しい
 ルーネー 寝る クリソツ そっくり クリビツ びっくり テンギョー 仰天
 イタオドロ 驚いた ルナドッホ なるほど ビーチ ちび ポコチン ちんぽこ
 コーマン おまんこ パイオツ おっぱい カイデ でかい ビーチク 乳首
 チャイチ ちっちゃい シーアー 脚 ガイナー 長居 ソイホ(-) 細い
 トイフ(-) 太い エーケー 毛 チータ 立つ・勃つ オイニー 匂い
 サイクー 臭い エーヘー 屁 ソーク(-) 糞 メーナ(-ン) 舐める
 パイイツ いっぱい パツキン 金髪 グラサン サングラス マーヒー 暇
 ロクブテ 手袋 コバルド ドル箱    

It’s also important to note that 逆読み are often used in brand names. Some examples include the following.

 HAKUBI C HAKUBI from 美白 バソキヤ From 焼きそば EZAK From 風邪

 More Historic Examples

  • 験を担ぐ: 験 being read as げん comes from an inversion of 縁起. Both this and 縁起を担ぐ exist, and both mean “to be superstitious. 
  • デカ: Kimono-wearing police officers in the Meiji Period were called 角袖巡査. The inversion of the middle morae of 角袖 – デカ – ultimately became a slang term for “detective.”
  • ポシャる: From シャッポを脱ぐ. This essentially means “to throw off one’s hat (in surrender),” but it more loosely translates as ”to fizzle/break down.” 
  • 道路: Though not etymologically an example of inversion, ロード meaning “road” looks awfully like 道路 inverted, which also happens to mean “road.” This coincidence has caught the attention of may since the Meiji Period.  

Reading Phrases Backwards

Completely inverting sentences has been a source of making jokes for a long time. It is also not uncommon to do this to a non-sentence to get the listener to figure out the funny, hidden message.

  • 雲雲崖にこんち旅なし: This makes no sense as is, but when you read backwards, you get a somewhat perverted joke → しなびたちんこに毛がもくもく
  • 問屋の米を買いたい買いたい: This is a little more X-rated. When you read backwards, you get: 痛い痛いおめこのやいと, meaning, “ouch, ouch, vagina moxibustion.” 
  • 「予想」は「嘘よ」: This is just clever. 
  • 手袋を反対から言ってごらん!: Don’t do this or else you’ll be hit six times.