Word of the Week

17/03/2013 15:17

Last week we started talking about some playful language. I usually don't have to think hard about the word of the week, it just pops up in my mind. It was the same this week, too. So we’ll continue with the funny stuff, but this time there will be more terms related to the special foreign word of the week.

Photo: Exciting Language Games via sxc.hu

On Monday, March 11 I took part in a benefit concert in Skalica organized under the auspices of a non-profit foundation LINAJE (www.nadacialinaje.sk). When the presenter introduced their foundation and explained the origin of the name, I hid a smile in my sleeve. The concept of the word of this week was made. You may have already noticed that if you jumble the letters of the name of the foundation, you’ll get the word ANJELI. The French word VERLAN came to my mind instantly and as soon as I got home I started searching for a word describing the same language phenomenon in English. I succeeded only partially because there is no name for the secret language that uses syllables of one word in a different order to create a new word. There are LANGUAGE GAMES both in English and Slovak, but there is not a developed group of words that would be used on a regular basis like the French verlan.

Let's stop and have a quick look at the word verlan and then at English games of this type. Verlan was created from the French word l'envers, which is pronounced as lan-ver. When you jumble up the syllables (phonetically), you’ll get the word verlan. Language games are created for different purposes. In French, verlan is an argot, i.e. a secret language of a certain social group. This secrecy may be needed in order to hide the word’s meaning from the unworthy ears, but sometimes using it is an act of solidarity. Thus, we protect the listener for his/her own sake. Such words are also created within a smaller group of speakers.  The main reason for the creation of secret codes is to make a message incomprehensible for people outside the group. As time passes and human ears get used to the inversed sounds, messages are decoded and language either loses its value and peters out, or penetrates into the common vocabulary (as it happened with verlan when the words used in everyday informal communication like femme ~ woman → meuf penetrated into dictionaries such as Larousse or Petit Robert), or it remains a supposed secret language of children for their playing time.

In English, you might have heard about PIG LATINS. These are the best-known language plays which lead to creation of secret languages. There are more or less set rules for making a secret language. You add for instance upp, obb or aig before the rhyme of each syllable and create an upp-upp, obb-obb or aigy language respectively. Backslang is also quite an interesting way of concealing a secret message, which in the past was used especially among businessmen, merchants and traders who wanted to communicate without being understood by their clients. So what does it mean when a seller encourages his colleague to lles eht taem htiw dellim star?

Another quite famous language play is the Cockney rhyming slang.  You have surely heard about the expression apples and pears standing for stairs or dog and bone standing for phone. If not, visit the webpage https://www.cockneyrhymingslang.co.uk and learn more about it. As the rhyming slang is part and parcel of the famous London dialect, the language plays are part and parcel of everyday communication.

I believe that you got inspired at least as much as I did during the benefit concert and will look for more language plays. Make sure you click on the webpage of the foundation – it does not only help children in need, but sometimes also authors running out of ideas.


Zuzana Rajčáková