Japanese palindromes and semordnilaps

4 Dec

Do you know what a “palindrome” is?  In Japanese, it’s called 「回文」 (“kai-bun“).
It’s a word or phrase that is the same word or phrase when it’s written backwards.

English examples are:
-“Race car“. Written backwards, it still spells “race car”.
-“Never odd or even“. That phrase is the same when it’s read back-to-front, too.

A Japanese palindrome is:
– “トマト” (tomato). In English, “tomato” is “otamot” when it’s written backwards, so it isn’t a palindrome in English. But written in Japanese, 「トマト」 is the same word back-to-front.

Then there are semordnilaps. These are words that spell a new, different word when written in reverse.

Examples in English are:
– “Star“. It spells “rats” when written backwards.
– “Live” → “Evil“.
– “Desserts” → “Stressed“.
And – “Semordnilap” is a semordnilap of “palindromes“.

In Japanese, a couple examples:
– “すずき” (“Su-zu-ki”) → “傷す” (“Ki-zu-su”) (“scratch”)
– “砂糖” (“Sa-to-u”) (English: “sugar”) → “疎さ” (“U-to-sa”) (Eng.: “sparse”)

But, because of the way that Japanese is written (with 漢字 characters), the Japanese language has a unique kind of “semordnilap“.
There are Japanese words that, when written in reverse, not only have a different meaning, but the words also have a totally different pronunciation. I mean, they aren’t pronounced as a backwards reading (like “star” and “rats”, etc).
They do, though, have the same 漢字 characters…just in the reverse order.

Let me show you an example:
– “花火” (“hanabi”) (Eng.: “fireworks”) → “火花” (“hibana”) (Eng.: “spark”).

Both of those words have the same two 漢字 characters, but in reverse order.

Here are some others:
– “神風” (“kamikaze”) (Eng.: “kamikaze” (lit. “Wind of God”) → “風神” (“fu-u-jin”) (Eng.: “God of the Wind”).
– “会社” (“kaisha”) (Eng.: “The office”) → “社会” (“shakai”) (Eng.: “society”).
– “日本” (“Nippon”) (Eng.: “Japan”) → “本日” (“honjitsu”) (Eng.: “today”).

There are also words in Japanese which have more than one pronunciation…and sometimes even different meanings.
For example:
風車 … it can be pronounced “fuu-sha” and mean “wind mill” and it can also be pronounced “kaza-guruma” and mean “pinwheel“.

風車 (fuu-sha)

風車 (kaza-guruma)

What are other “semordnilaps” and “palindromes” that you can think of (in any language)?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: