Words in Reverse
The Hague, 06.2010
Printed on the occasion of the 2010 Type & Media MA graduation show, taking place at the Royal Academy of Art, The Hague.

Text responding to the theme of the vernacular, for use on a poster displaying the typeface Luciaan, designed by Yohanna Nguyen for her 2010 graduation project.

Poster design by Yohanna Nguyen.

Words in Reverse
(as heard between 1994 and 1999)

Thinking on the vernacular, an abstract set of norms... Once there was a group of boys that I knew. We used to hang around together after school. Kicking a football around the supermarket car park, sitting on the shopping trolleys, maybe trying to find someone to go into the off-licence to buy booze for the upcoming weekend. There was nothing to do it seemed, ever, nowhere to go. Years went by, and many evenings were spent in this way. We got through a considerable number of footballs – the leather ones were no good on the tarmac, they looked beautiful and shiny for about a day but then got scuffed to pieces until they finally burst, or got kicked onto the supermarket roof. It was easy to climb up onto it to go looking for them, but quite often the ball seemed to vanish once it went up there, devoured by some mysterious back hole swirling around atop Tesco. The rubber balls were much better – one in particular that was called a Derby. It had a good weight in it, could weather the tarmac well and even sometimes survive the potentially lethal experience of getting run over by any cars that happened upon it. Anyway, over the years, a certain dialect developed amongst the group. A peculiar, and (in hindsight) not always funny form of sarcasm was the key to it. I can't remember where it came from exactly, perhaps our completely directionless existence was to blame... in any case, everyone began speaking to each other through the reverse of what they meant, and for years this became the way that we communicated with each other. It was essentially based on the idea that when you wanted to say something, you would say its opposite, and then call your own statement into question immediately; thus reversing it to become your intended meaning. If this sounds complicated, in practice it was really very simple. For example: If one were to hit a wayward shot with the football, (perhaps onto the roof), someone else might say “Good shot, was it?”. If someone wanted to tell someone else that they thought they were ugly, they might say, ‘Nice lookin’, are ye?’. “I think I will get drunk tonight’ would roughly translate as “Gonna be sober later, am I?” and so on. I’ve included question marks here for visual effect, but in truth, the diction on the question part was so clearly rhetorical as to remove any uncertainty completely. Very soon, it wasn't even a question anymore — it was simply a reversed sentence that everyone in the group knew how to make sense of. "Good shot, was it", "Nice-lookin’, are ye", etc. The statements nearly always reversed to become a negative, and usually something derogatory, but on occasion might be reversed to give a statement in the positive. Spending entire days hanging around in the car park became less appealing after a while and we all began to go our separate ways, but for a few years afterward almost every thought I would have, began in my head in reverse. Whenever I wanted to do anything, I began by thinking of the opposite. It took years to straighten out and I still sometimes slip back into it. Useful, is it.