Back slang is an English coded language in which the written word is spoken phonemically backwards. It is thought to have originated in Victorian England, being used mainly by market sellers, such as butchers and greengrocers, to have private conversations behind their customers' backs and pass off lower quality goods to less observant customers.
Some back slang has entered standard English. For example the term 'yob' was originally back slang for 'boy'.
The appellation back slang is specific to the English language. Other languages, however, have similar coded forms, such as the French verlan, in which it is syllables, rather than the entire word, that are reversed. Lunfardo, a Spanish argot spoken in Argentina, occurs words spoken in vesre (from revés, literally "backwards").
In some regions, the term back slang is used more generally for other codings such as the inclusion of extra syllables in the middle of words, such as heagy peagy and is a main part of the plot in the episode of the BBC Radio 4 comedy series After Henry (Series 3: Lines of Communication) occasionally repeated on BBC Radio 7.
Back slang is also said to be used in prisons by inmates to make it harder for prison wardens to listen into prisoners' conversations and find out what they were talking about. This use of back slang was highlighted in the 9 June 2010 episode of Crimewatch Roadshow.
- Simon Cambers, "Laura Robson reveals the benefits of talking in tongues on tour", The Guardian, 25 January 2010
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