The verb ひるがえす feels like it is made of two part ひる and かえす but I could not find any references backing this interpretation. And I can't figure out what would be ひる.

@snailboat also mentioned くつがえす whose meaning is very close to ひるがえす. If an answer could solve both cases it would be much appreciated.

  • 3
    I think you could ask the same thing about 覆す.
    – user1478
    Commented Apr 2, 2016 at 15:49
  • @snailboat I did not know that verb, but indeed if an answer could address them both it would be very interesting. Commented Apr 2, 2016 at 16:02

2 Answers 2


[翻]{ひるがえ}す is a transitive verb of [翻]{ひるがえ}る.
It seems that it shows the movement of a flag originally.

This theory remains a matter of speculation.

翻る…[旗]{はた}が翻る(A flag flaps)


[蘇]{よみがえ}る…[死者]{ししゃ}が蘇る(The dead revive)

※黄泉 is the land of the dead.

I did not understand about [覆]{くつがえ}る...

(about a hypothesis)
This is an ancient Japanese poem([和歌]{わか})
たみのなけきに むかつひめ いそききしいに ゆきひらき
民の嘆きに 向津姫 急ぎ紀志伊に 行き翻らき link

  • Oh, I never made the parallel between 黄泉 and 蘇る! On the other hand, I can't really understand how ひらひらと裏返る could become 翻る, would it mean that the ら in ひらひら becomes somehow a る to finally get to ひがえる? Commented Apr 2, 2016 at 16:59
  • 2
    Because they are similar. It seems that there is a hypothesis that '翻らき' was pronounced 'hiraki'.
    – nariuji
    Commented Apr 2, 2016 at 21:30


Nariuji's answer above for 翻す matches what I've researched in the past. ひる, ひら, even ふる (as in 振る) all seem to be related to ideas of something flat waving or flapping, cognate with 鰭{ひれ} fin, and possibly even cognate with 簸{ひ}る (ancient root verb ふ) to winnow (by shaking grain).


Looking specifically at 覆す・覆る, this appears to be a compound of くつ + かえす・かえる.

The かえす・かえる Part

One of the first senses listed for かえす, spelled using the kanji 反 or 返, is:

To reverse the positions of things or facts.

かえる is simply the intransitive side of this same meaning:

The positions of things or facts become reversed.

The くつ Part

But the くつ portion remains a bit mysterious.

  • One etymon (root word) for くつ that seems to make sense semantically here is 靴 shoes -- as in 靴反す to reverse the position of one's shoesto make one's shoes on the topto turn upside down.

  • As an alternative possibility, I note that くつ is also an old reading for 口, only used in very old compounds (such as 轡{くつわ} = 口 + 輪 = mouth ring = the bit for a horse). So perhaps くつがえす = 口反す to reverse the position of one's mouthto make one's mouth on the bottomto turn upside down.

However, both options here refer specifically to a person's body, whereas 覆す・覆る can be used for all kinds of things.

A more likely etymon is probably the くつ in less-used adverb くっつり sufficiently, adequately; completely. This word is missing from both Kotobank and Weblio, but I do find it in my dead-tree 国語大辞典 from Shogakukan. This may be the same くつ in くっつく to really stick to something (sometimes unsatisfyingly explained as 食う + 付く).

Many adverbs of the form CVCCV + り, such as くっつり or がっくり or ゆったり, appear to be derived from gemination (double-consonanting) of the underlying two-mora root + り from あり. So ゆったり is from ゆた (with an underlying meaning of loose in terms of roomy, not constricting), observable in part by the synonymous adverb ゆたゆた, while がっくり is from がく (with an underlying meaning of loose in terms of able to wiggle about), with synonym がくがく. (See this related thread talking about such -り adverbs.)

So くっつり would appear to derive from くつ (with an underlying meaning of sufficiently; completely).

Putting It Together

From this, くつ + かえす = くつ反{がえ}す = to completely turn something over, which seems to best match the meaning of 覆{くつがえ}す. So too can we derive くつ + かえる = くつ反{がえ}る = to completely turn over (on its own), which seems to best match the meaning of 覆{くつがえ}る.

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