Making a Career of Conversing in Reverse

DAVID FUHRER has developed a totally useless talent. He can talk, read, and sing - backwards. Senseless as it sounds, his ability to converse in reverse may be catching. Besides appearing on late-night TV (David Letterman, Johnny Carson), this 28-year-old oddity has even invented his own board game. ``I never thought that I could ever do anything practical with it. I always considered it a completely useless ability,'' he says.

Mr. Fuhrer's backwards language consists of pronouncing words exactly as they are spelled backwards. By picturing words in his mind, he can translate simultaneously any paragraph, sentence, or saying in reverse.

It's a rare ability, says Michel Jackson, a linguist at Yale University. And it's not surprising that others want to join the fun, she says. ``For some people it's a revelation that words can be taken apart, and that speech can played with.''

``Backwords,'' released in the United States by Random House last fall, has been well-received internationally, says the young inventor, who recently returned from an overseas promotional tour. The game won a ``best game of the year'' award from the Australian Toy Association last year. Games Magazine in this country cited it as one of the best games of 1988.

Fuhrer's penchant for backwardness began when he was 10 years old. That's when he started reading road signs backwards on a family vacation trip. He noticed, for example, that a street sign that said, ``Parkway'' became YAWKRAP in reverse. Fascinated, he started seeing words in reverse everywhere. He began calling his friends by their backwards names: Tony became YNOT; Naomi became IMOAN, and so on.

A high point in his young career came when he sang ``The Star Spangled Banner'' in reverse at a summer camp talent show. That's when he knew where his career was headed: backwards.

At Boston University, he continued his backwards performances at school talent shows. A friend helped Fuhrer book his act on ``Late Night with David Letterman'' in 1983. Fuhrer, who sang ``Take me out to the Ball Game'' backwards, was bumped five times before actually appearing on the show.

``Because I kept getting bumped, I got a lot of publicity for never actually being on the show. [Letterman] kept announcing that I would be on ... then the voice-over man would come on and say that I didn't really exist or that I started a fight in the lobby and they had to throw me out,'' he says, and chuckles. Fuhrer hopes to co-host a backwards TV game show this fall or next January. He is also working on a backwards rap song to be sung with ``a major rap band.''

Fuhrer, who now lives in Los Angeles, doesn't know how long he will continue with his backwards endeavors. ``What I would like to do is pursue it as long as I can,'' he says, ``because I'm having an awful lot of fun with it.''

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