Back slang 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'.
Back slang is 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.
Other languages have similar coded forms but reversing the order of syllables rather than phonemes. These include:
- French verlan, in which e.g. français [fʁɑ̃sɛ] becomes cèfran [sɛfʁɑ̃]
- Lunfardo, a Spanish argot spoken in Argentina, includes words in vesre (from revés, literally "backwards")
- Greek podaná
- 19th century Swedish (e.g. the word Fika)
- Šatrovački, a Serbo-Croatian-Bosnian slang system
- Simon Cambers, "Laura Robson reveals the benefits of talking in tongues on tour", The Guardian, 25 January 2010
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