Opposite of Walnut is Milk


Sleep deprivation has been making me weird(er). Short term memory has certainly been affected. By Monday night, I should be rested and able to recall all the things I wanted to post. While you’re waiting for my return to normalcy – or some state resembling it – I’ll give you a cute little something.

In English we can play games that can be read forward or backward (of which anagrams are a subset), but in Japanese there are many ways to read words backwards. The main methods are:

  • reversing the order of kanji characters
  • reversing the order of the hiragana characters
  • reversing the order of the letters after romanizing the words

Kanji characters have meanings (usually multiple meanings) and when the characters are combined together they produce other (generally related) meanings. Switching the order of the characters can produce nonsense or, with a little effort, words with different meanings. The readings of the characters may also change in this process. One example we can see everyday is:

  • 日本, nihon or nippon – Japan
  • 本日, honjitsu – today or “the day” as in ‘soup of the day’

Another example, where the readings don’t change:

  • 階段, kaidan – stairway, staircase
  • 段階, dankai – grade, stage

Hiragana characters are phonetic and essentially represent syllables (this is the quick, non-technical explanation.) Any word can be written out in hiragana. Reversing the order of the characters could produce gibberish or, if done well, some amusement. This is what prompted me to write today. Look at these:

  • くるみ, ku/ru/mi – walnut
  • みるく, mi/ru/ku – milk

Technically ‘milk’ is a foreign word and should be written in katakana, but the concept here is switching the order of the sounds, so either set of kana characters is alright.

The third method of switching the order would be to write out the word using Roman letters and then change the order of letters. This is more likely to produce garbage, since the word would have to start with a vowel or an ‘n’ to have any chance of working. Let me have a go at it:

  • Iesu – Jesus (イエス)
  • usei – the sound of rain falling (雨声)

I find it interesting that the writing of ‘Jesus’ in Japanese is the same as the English ‘yes’. Please have fun with this type of wordplay.


7 Responses to “Opposite of Walnut is Milk”

  1. Sylvia Says:


  2. Dorothy W. Says:

    Well, I wouldn’t really know how to have fun with this wordplay, but I did enjoy reading your post!

  3. verbivore Says:

    This suits my logophilic soul just perfectly. I love the Jesus-yes thing. This is not exactly the same thing but my father (who was a Lutheran missionary in Japan) gave his first sermon in Japanese when his language skills were still fairly skaky. He made two rather embarassing mix-ups, between にんじん and にんげん (人間) and かめ and かみ (神). He essentially spent a good 40 minutes saying that the great turtle in the sky loved carrots. And his audience was wonderfully polite – no one told him his mistake for a few months!

  4. びっくり Says:

    I have often confused ningen, ninjin, and ningyou. People, carrots, dolls – Turtle loves them all. He loves mermaids too, I’m sure. I’m glad to hear your father’s mistake turned into an amusing story instead of some kind of excommunication.


    Today I was studying polite forms of language and realized a whole new type of punny humor. I’m sure I’ll be posting about this in the near future.

  5. verbivore Says:

    握りは?? 一番好きなの???

  6. びっくり Says:

    I’m sure that Turtle likes O-nigiri as well: Turtle is very loving – there’s enough to go around.

  7. Sylvia Says:

    But does the Great Turtle love the Great Pumpkin?

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