People are freaking out after figuring out what Missy Elliott was actually saying in “Work It.” Don’t believe it? Check out BuzzFeed’s “People Are Freaking Out After Figuring Out What Missy Elliott Was Actually Saying in ‘Work It’” for proof.
Now, a careful reading may reveal that the number of people freaking out over this particular revelation is, not counting replies to the original tweets that make up most of the post, precisely two, which is to say the minimum number necessary to qualify as “people.” But it’s obviously a real phenomenon. Why else would the Huffington Post, Refinery29, Uproxx, and Metro, to name only a few, all be posting more or less the same thing?
It may come as a surprise to learn that “people” are “finally figuring out” something that has been widely known for 15 years, which is that the line after “Put my thing down, flip it and reverse it” is just the same line run backwards—which is to say that Ms. Misdemeanor actually did put her thing down, that thing being the recording of her voice, then flipped it and reversed it. (Technically, both flipping and reversing would be the equivalent of a double negative, but we’ll chalk it up to poetic license and the song being a stone-cold classic.) Every generation gets the chance to discover things for themselves, but “Young People Learn Thing People Older Than Them Have Known for a Long Time” isn’t the most click-inducing of headlines.
More to the point, how is one to proceed with this information, especially in that most pertinent of arenas: doing karaoke in a crowded bar on a Saturday night? Should knowing what Missy is actually saying change your approach, or should you continue to go at those mystery bars like you’re cosplaying Twin Peaks’ Man From Another Place? To settle this nettlesome question, we turned to the most authoritative of sources: karaoke lyrics videos.
Our first example straight-up punts, simply writing “backwards 2x” in lieu of actual lyrics. That’s better than the one that just writes “Put my thing down …” twice, which is some amateur-hour, my-friends-made-me-come-up-here ish, but either way, the aspiring karaokist is left to his or her own devices.
Ws start to make progress with this karaoke lyrics video, which renders the lyric as “Fwod pilf ti dan esrever ti/ I tup ym gnith,” although it makes the mistake of reversing each word individually, and for some reason seems to think that “down” backwards is “fwod.” (Genius writes the lyrics as “Ti esrever dna ti pilf, nwod gniht ym tup.”) But while this version makes it clear where the line comes from, it doesn’t sound anything like the song, because the process involves reversing Elliott’s phonemes and not the letters in the words themselves.
For true karaoke guidance, then, turn here:
“It’s your femme neppa venette” doesn’t quite nail the whoosh of Elliott’s reversed voice, but it’s fairly close, enough to impress a room full of strangers waiting for their chance to butcher “Sweet Caroline.” Of course, it does open up a whole different line of questions about whether Missy is really, really saying “Barely assist Venice” in Norwegian, but that’s an internet freakout for another time.