Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Kanji Backwards Spell Different Word - Semordnilap

Sometimes in Japanese two words are written with the same kanji, but one is spelled in one way, while the other is spelled backwards. That is, the order of the kanji is reversed.

This is something to watch out for if you're trying to guess the meaning of words from their kanji, because even though the meaning of the kanji remain the same, and the reading may vary a bit, the last kanji generally represents a noun morpheme, while the preceding would act as modifiers.

If the order changes, which kanji are modifiers change too, and as a result the meaning of the whole word changes.

For example: gaijin 外人 is written with the kanji for the word "outside," soto 外, and "person," hito 人. So literally an "outside person," a "foreigner."

However, when you write gaijin backwards you get jingai 人外, which has "person" modifying "outside," meaning it's something "outside of people." Indeed, the word jingai can be used to refer to non-human stuff, like monsters, monster girls, etc. which are outside of what you'd call "people."

jingai vs. gaijin - difference in meanings: 人外, "foreigners," like Americans; 外人, "non-humans," like monster girls

But that's just in anime-land. Normally, jingai would refer to a person who acts inhumanly, or to their inhuman acts, or refer to a place "outside of people['s realm]," that is, a place nobody lives on, an uninhabited place.

Some more examples:

gaikoku 外国
Country of outside. Foreign country.
kokugai 国外
Outside of the country.

joou 女王
Female king. "Queen."
oujo 王女

kaisha 会社
shakai 社会

seppuku 切腹
harakiri 腹切
Ritualistic suicide by cutting (kiru 切る) one's stomach (hara 腹).

hachimitsu 蜂蜜
(Bee) honey.
mitsubachi 蜜蜂

gyuunyuu 牛乳
(Cow) milk.
nyuugyuu 乳牛
Milk cow.

gakki 楽器
Musical instrument.
kigaku 器楽
Instrumental music.

ongaku 音楽
Sound comfort. Music.
gakuon 楽音
Comfort sound. Musical note.

irezumi 入れ墨
sumiire 墨入れ
Ink bottle. Inking [something].

danketsu 団結
Group formed. Union. Combination.
ketsudan 結団
Form group. Forming a group, union, etc..

gappi 月日
Month and day. The date.
jitsugetsu 日月
Sun and moon.

jinkou 人工
Man craft. Artificial. Man-made.
koujin 工人
Craft man. Craftsman. Workman.

ryokou 旅行
Trip go. Travel. Journey.
kouryo 行旅
Go trip. Travelling.

kurou 苦労
Pain work. Hardships. Trouble [you gave someone].
rouku 労苦
Work pain. Labor.

riben 利便
Advantage use. Convenience.
benri 便利
Use advantage. Convenient.

kirisame 霧雨
Light rain.
amagiri 雨霧
Rain-like mist.

reigi 礼儀
girei 儀礼

By the way, two words written with the same letters are called anagrams. When a word is the same even when spelled backwards, it's called a palindrome. And words like the above, which are different words spelled with the same characters but backwards, it's called a semordnilap.

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