REVERSE PA MORE
REVERSE SLANG, as your Lenguador noted in the past two columns, is currently enjoying a revival in these parts, as evidenced by the popularity of the words petmalu and lodi on social media. Word coiners have already come up with Noypi translations of the term reverse
slang: tadbalik and baliktad-Tagalog. Online articles and listicles about this revival apparently have the impression that reverse slang came to the country sometime in the 1970s. But Quijano de Manila, aka National Artist Nick Joaquin, wrote in “The Language of the Street,” a 1963 article, that “the practice of creating new words by reversing old ones” was already around in the 1930s and 1940s, when slang terms such as damatan, ermat, and erpat (from matanda, mother,
and father) came into being. Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino language researcher Roy Rene Cagalingan has pointed out that something similar to reverse slang was already done back in Spanish times: “Katipuneros used secret codes in order to hide their identity and evade authorities. Writer-patriot Marcelo Del Pilar used the pen name ‘Plaridel,’ a jumbled version of his last name ‘Del Pilar.’”
Jumbling was something that Nick Joaquin himself reportedly did when he came up with the journalistic pen name Quijano. Actually, that’s a Spanish surname. Alonso Quijano, for instance, was the personal name of Don Quixote de la Mancha, the knight in Miguel de Cervantes’s 17th century novel. But Quijano has also been seen as a rearrangement of the letters in Nick’s surname, Joaquin.
Strictly speaking, however, this kind of mishmash isn’t really reversing, and the result definitely isn’t slang.
The term reverse slang, by the way, has been around for as long as I can remember, but although you’ll get more than a thousand results when you do an IGMG ( i-Google mo, gago), it’s not a term that you’ll find in dictionaries and encyclopedias. The term found in these reference sources is back slang. Merriam-Webster defines back slang as “a secret language in which each word is pronounced exactly or approximately as if spelled backwards (such as nam for
man or nird for drink),” and adds that the term was first used in 1860. Wikipedia notes that market sellers in Victorian England may have started the use of back
slang so that they could “have private conversations behind their customers’ backs and pass off lower quality goods to less observant customers.”
As you can see, reverse slang, aka back slang, is not a purely Noypi phenomenon. In fact, other countries and languages have their own versions of tadbalik.
The French term for it is verlan, which is itself a back-slang word, derived from
l’envers, meaning backwards, upside down, inside out, the wrong way round. In
verlan, the word femme (girl, woman) has been turned into meuf, and fou (crazy) into ouf. In Argentinian Spanish, it’s verse or
al reves, in which tango, the dance, has become gotán, and calle (street) is lleca. In Buenos Aires, Argentina’s capital city, there is a chain of pizza restaurants called Zapi, according to an article by Elaine Tannous on the LandingPadBA.com blog.
“On occasion,” Elaine writes, “flipping the syllables of a word changes the meaning. For example, a galan. A galan is a man who is popular with the ladies, whereas a langa is a man that thinks he’s good with women, when really everyone thinks he’s kind of a joke.”