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Inverted Words


29 Mar 2004
As part of my Japanese conversation class I am researching a number of topics about Japan and Japanese that I find interesting.

The other day while talking to a Japanese friend of mine, he mentioned 倒語 (tougo), that is, japanese words created by switching around the syllables of existing words. He said that these words are often used as technical jargon or popular slang, especially by famous people.

This has defiantly sparked my curiosity, but other than a page at jekai.org (see here), I haven't been able to find much information about the subject.


■ A 倒語 is a word formed by reversing the syllable order of a conventional word.

□ Most 倒語 are slang, informal expressions, or nonce words. 倒語 can be invented easily, and often they are used and understood only by people in certain groups. However, a few are widely known. In a few cases, such as ネタ or ダフ屋, most users of the words may not be aware of their etymologies.

Some well-established 倒語 are the following:

ネタ, from 種(たね). For definitions, see the entry for ネタ.

ダフ屋 "scalper, ticket tout," from 札(ふだ). See ダフ屋.

どや "flophouse," from 宿(やど) "inn." See どや.

グラサン "sunglasses," from サングラス. (Note that one syllable, ス, was dropped, and the remaining four syllables were reversed in pairs.)

しょば "place for setting up an outdoor stall or restaurant," as in しょば代(だい) "the fee levied for such a business," and しょば屋(や) "a person who collects such fees." From 場所(ばしょ) "place."

もく "tobacco, cigarette," from 雲(くも) "cloud," a reference to tobacco smoke.

Can anyone think of examples? How the practice come about? Have you made any of your own?
Well, this isn't exactly what you're looking for, but it is somewhat related, so I decided to post it here. I just came across this article (左右と右左), and another that is linked inside of it. I found them to be quite interesting, so I thought that I would share. Anyway, I hope you enjoy them.
If I recall correctly 社会 is a relatively new word created by reversing the kanji in 会社.

There's also one for the police used by criminal types, but I forget what it was now.
Found another page here





Sorry I can't help you there. Satsu and omawari(san) are the only slang I know of for police, or pigs or the man as we say here in the US. :cautious:
well, how about Bakasatsu or Sajjin. I don't know if someone would use it at all. This might mean something completely defferently than what one might think, just like Keisatsu... it has another meaning(s). I just need to look them up in my Kanji dictionary.
I though Omawarisan was just a word used for patrol men? So not really slang, not in the sense I think of it. But a standard and polite word used to refer to them. My understanding though, based off my Japanese teacher is that Japanese don't think of police in the same sense that americans do. He is quite surprised about how many americans refer to police.
rquethe said:
I though Omawarisan was just a word used for patrol men? So not really slang, not in the sense I think of it. But a standard and polite word used to refer to them.
Without the san, it may be closest to something like the cops in English.
Wow, thanks for all the great info. PaulTB, that article was just the kind of thing I'm looking for ^_^. Glenn, I'm about half way through the page you posted, but it looks great too.

PaulTB, you mentioned 窶ーテッナステ and ナステ絶?ーテッ. Is one of these words a slang'ish term? Or do they just happen to be the opposites of each other? I've been using both for some time, but thought they were general terms.
rquethe said:
Probably nothing. Hence, just a guess. I was trying to think about what a slang word for police (keisatsu) could conceivably be.
It's quite possible I mis-remembered that. I can't remember where I came across it in the first place to check.

alsoTom said:
PaulTB, you mentioned 会社 and 社会. Is one of these words a slang'ish term?
Nope. They are both 'kosher' but if what I was told is correct then 社会 was created more recently than 会社.

If you check dictionary.goo.ne.jp entry then it says 〔福地桜痴による society の訳語〕

福地桜痴 appears to be a journalist and playwright. See here:

福地桜痴とは - はてなキーワード

So, in other words, 社会 is a created word used to represent the concept of 'society' that (in his opinion) was not readily expressable in the Japanese language at the time. (Presumably in the late 1800's)
thejapanesepage has a lot:

#1 Reversed Kanji with the same pronunciation

事故 ji ko - (traffic) accident (USEFUL)
故事 ko ji - tradition, historical fact [submitted by Eduardo]

慣習 kan shuu - usual (historical) custom
習慣 shuu kan - custom, habit, manners (USEFUL)

名著 mei cho - famous book, masterpiece
著名 cho mei - well-known (USEFUL)

魚雷 gyo rai (ぎょらい) Torpedo
雷魚 rai gyo(らいぎょ) A type of fish - snakehead mullet (whatever that is...)

進行 shin kou(しんこう) progress, advance (USEFUL)
行進 kou shin(こうしん) march, parade (USEFUL)

和平 wa hei (わへい) peace
平和 hei wa (へいわ) peace (USEFUL)

画面 ga men(がめん)terminal screen, scene, picture, the field (in TV), photo (USEFUL)
面画 men ga(めんが)surface-drawing (NOT USEFUL)

社会 sha kai (しゃかい) Society (USEFUL)
会社 kai sha (かいしゃ)a business (USEFUL)

決議 (ketsu gi) a resolution (with suru - to resolve)
議決 (gi ketsu)

議会 (gi kai) an assembly
会議 (kai gi) a meeting (USEFUL)

議論 gi ron - an argument; a discussion
論議 ron gi - discussion; to discuss or talk about

楽器 gakki - a musical instrument (USEFUL)
器楽 kigaku - instrumental music

光栄 kou ei - honor, glory, privilege (USEFUL)
栄光 ei kou - glory (USEFUL)

海外 (kai gai) foreign countries (USEFUL)
外海 (gai kai)

数人 suu nin - Several People (USEFUL)
人数 nin zuu Number of people

材木 zai moku - wood, lumber, timber
木材 moku zai - lumber
実現 jitsu gen - realization (of a dream)
現実 gen jitsu - a reality, actual, real

#2 Reversed Kanji with a different pronunciation

日本 nihon (にほん) Japan (USEFUL)
本日 hon jitsu (ほんじつ) Today (USEFUL)

家出 ie de(いえで) running away from home, leaving home
出家 shukke(しゅっけ)entering the priesthood, priest, monk

力学 rikigaku(りきがく) mechanics, dynamics
学力 gaku ryoku(がくりょく)scholarship, knowledge, literary ability

男優 dan yuu(だんゆう) actor (USEFUL)
優男 yasa otoko(やさおとこ)man of gentle manners (USEFUL)

根性 kon jyou(こんじょう) will-power (vs), guts, temper, nature, spirit (USEFUL)
性根 shou ne(しょうね)character, nature

様子 you su(ようす)aspect, state, appearance (USEFUL)
お子様 o ko sama(おこさま)child (polite) (USEFUL)

凸凹 dekoboko - rough; uneven
凹凸 ou totsu - unevenness; uneven

敬愛 kei ai - respect & affection
愛敬 ai kyou - love & respect (USEFUL)

口出し kuchi dashi - meddling, interference
出口 de guchi - exit (USEFUL)

切腹 seppuku - commiting suicide by cutting the stomach
腹切り harakiri - same as above
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