Someone speaks with the speech audio reversed. This can be done to invoke a feeling of unreality or disorientation. It may happen in a dream or it may give an impression of a dreamlike state. In a filmed or animated work, it may manifest itself in a character reading literal speech written backward, or it may happen when a character attempts to pronouce the phonemes in a word or sentence in reverse order, or it may be done by taking regular audio and playing it backwards. In a written work the dialogue will be spelled backwards, and on rare occasions even the shapes of the letters may be flipped.
Another version of this trope is the phenomenon known as "backmasking", when messages are hidden in rock music recordings by being recorded backwards, usually as an Easter Egg. (In Ye Olden Days when people played music on phonograph records it was easy enough to hear these hidden messages by making your turntable spin in reverse.) In the past, some of these messages have stoked controversy about their supposed subconscious effects on listeners; see Subliminal Seduction for more details.
This trope is limited to speech, or the sound of someone's voice. For written works, this means that character monologue or dialogue is included in the trope (e.g. Zatanna's backwards-spoken spells), while in-universe writing is not (e.g. the inscription on the Mirror of Erised, since nobody reads it out loud in the book).
- In Simoun, the Argentum soldiers speak what at first appears complete gibberish, but on closer inspection is just Simulacran/Japanese played backwards.
- Suske en Wiske: In the story "De brullende berg", the heroes meet a giant who talks in his own language. At first they use a translation device to communicate with him, but it breaks down after a while, leaving them unable to speak with the giant untill Wiske realizes the giant is actually just speaking backwards.
- Zatanna from The DCU uses this method of speaking in order to cast spells. It's arguably the best-known aspect of her character.
- In The Smurfs comic book version of "The Hundredth Smurf", Vanity's mirror clone literally speaks backwards with all the letters and punctuation marks in his speech balloons arranged backwards, as a mirror to Vanity's own speech balloons. In the Animated Adaptation, Vanity's mirror clone speaks with all the words arranged in reverse order.
- When doing the summation in Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls, Ace rattles off his conclusion towards the accused. He then says "Let me run that back for you", reverses his actions, and speaks like he's rewinding.
- In A Night at the Opera, starring The Marx Brothers, Chico, Harpo, and their buddy Ricardo are impersonating three foreign dignitaries, with Groucho pretending to be their interpreter. A police captain calls them out as impostors, whereupon Groucho turns to the three and they start talking in what seems to be As Long as It Sounds Foreign gibberish. What it actually is, is normal English dialogue—Groucho says "Did you hear what he said? He said you were frauds and impostors!", then Chico and Ricardo say stuff like "How can he say a thing like that?", "This is ridiculous," etc—with all the dialogue played backwards.
- In Spy Kids, the nonsense songs sung by the characters of the Show Within a Show Floop's Fooglies are actually cries of "Floop is a madman, help us, save us!" spoken backwards by the mutated and imprisoned Fooglies.
- Combined with Rewind Gag in Top Secret!, when a scene in which characters speak "Swedish" is actually playing in reverse so that the dialogue sounds foreign. This becomes more apparent as the scene plays out, as things like dust flying onto a book when a character blows on it or a dog running backwards give away the effect.
- In The Flash (2014), the episode "The New Rogues" has Barry being trapped in a mirror by Mirror Master. While in there, sounds appears backwards to people on the other side, much like a reflection. In order to understand what Barry is saying, a device that reverses audio had to be put on the mirror to translate what Barry is saying.
- In the Red Dwarf episode "Backwards", the crew of the Dwarf visit an alternate universe where time runs backwards, and everyone speaks in Sdrawkcab Speech. (Reversing the episode's audio reveals that some of the dialogue is appropriate to the situation, some of it is just gibberish, and some of it is snarky commentary about how boring a person's life must be if they went to the trouble of reversing the audio.)
- In the Star Trek episode "And the Children Shall Lead," an alien power causes the Enterprise crew to hallucinate their fears. This includes Kirk talking in reversed audio to represent his fear of being unable to communicate.
- In Twin Peaks, The Man From Another Place has a strange singsongy way of speaking. What they did was have the actor read his lines forward into a recorder, play it backwards to learn how to recreate those sounds, film the scenes with him saying the backwards lines, then re-backwards-izing it forwards.
- The Final Boss of Doom II Level 30, the Icon of Sin, recites the phrase "To win the game, you must kill me, John Romero," reversed and distorted to sound like a demonic chant.
- In the Atari ST version of the 1989 game Enterprise, there's a sound file labelled "WARNINGD.DAT", if you play it backward, you get "Enterprise is rubbish!"
- All of the standard zombies in Half-Life 2 shout "Help! God, help! HELP ME!" in reverse.
- XOR in Ultimate Custom Night has a reversed, pitch-lowered, sped-up and distorted version of Dee Dee's sneaky speech. In this case, XOR spawns multiple enemies rather than just one.
- In The Amazing World of Gumball episode "The Wand", Gumball and Darwin pretend a toy wand Richard has is actually magic. When he hits them with a "reverse spell", Gumball says the words in his previous sentence ("Its power has overtaken you") in reversed order ("You overtaken has power its"). Darwin corrects him by speaking what is clearly a reversed recording of the same sentence.
- During one of the music video segments in the Beavis and Butt-Head episode "Vidiots," Beavis reveals that he can do this. His speech actually has the audio reversed, but when Butt-Head tries it, he just reverses the order of the words.
- The Clone High episode "Raisin The Stakes" has a scene where JFK gets high on raisins and falls through a skylight, landing on a table. Between his highness and the massive pain of shattering his leg, he starts rambling in backwards speech. If one plays his words in reverse, it's a secret message exhorting viewers to keep watching Clone High and help it win an Emmy.
- In The Dragon Prince, every magic spell requires a spoken incantation. The spell incantations for Black Magic sound like regular speech spoken backwards.
- Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends: In "Infernal Slumber", Bloo talks backwards as part of the friends' plan to act weird to convince an awoken Terrence that he's dreaming.
- G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero: In "Sins of Our Fathers", Destro speaks an arcane chant to control a demon. If played backwards, he's saying, "Anyone listening to this backwards for a secret occult message is a real dweeb!"
- It's everywhere in Gravity Falls - for example, at the end of every theme song is a whisper that, if played backwards, reveals a way to solve a secret code in the end credits. But one of the most notable examples is during Bill Cipher's death, where he shouts gibberish that translates to what seems to be a way to eventually bring him back to life:
Bill: "A-X-O-L-O-T-L, MY TIME HAS COME TO BURN, I INVOKE THE ANCIENT POWER THAT I MAY RETURN!"
- Used at the beginning of the House of Mouse short "Hickory Dicker Mickey".
Goofy: .yfooG s'ti, yekciM, olleH
Mickey: Goofy, you're talking through the wrong end of the phone again!
- Mr. Pickles, the titular character, is a Satanic dog who uses demonic incantations in order to hypnotize others to do his bidding. The incantation is actually a voice deepened and played backwards.
- The Simpsons: In "Who Shot Mr. Burns? Part 2" Chief Wiggum has a Dream Sequence where Lisa appears, talking in reversed backward speech in an homage to Twin Peaks. When Wiggum repeatedly fails to understand her hints, she eventually gets angry and tells him what she means normally.
- SpongeBob SquarePants: In "Opposite Day", SpongeBob and Patrick speak backwards while celebrating the titular day. The translation:
SpongeBob: Hey, Patrick.
Patrick: I give up.
SpongeBob: To get to the opposite side.
[they both laugh]
- Amethyst speaks this way in the Steven Universe episode "An Indirect Kiss" when her gem gets cracked and starts getting wonky.
Amethyst: ?hceab eht no gniod uoy era tahW !syug yeHnote .emoh gniog m'I ,hgUnote !yrc ti ekam ...attog uoy ...nwo sti no yrc t'nac ydob ruoy fI !yeHnote .wonk uoy os tsuj ,nevetS llik annog era dna efil ot gnimoc era seniv ehTnote .doog m'I ,gnihtyna ro yrrow t'noDnote ?pleh elttil ,hUnote ?ay lliw ,pu reehCnote