The inscription on the Mirror of Erised reads

Erised stra ehru oyt ube cafru oyt on wohsi

which reads "ishow no tyo urfac ebu tyo urhe arts desirE" backwards. I'm okay that the punctuation ends up a little funny, but what is the reason for the spacing choices made on this inscription?


1 Answer 1


There are a couple of possible reasons why the spacing was chosen in a different way from that of the original unreversed words (which is, by the way, a very minor stylistic choice) ...

  • To make the 'words' in the reversed inscription sound more like real words.

    Compare "Erised stra ehru oyt ube cafru oyt on wohsi" with "Erised straeh ruoy tub ecaf ruoy ton wohs i". How would you even pronounce a word like "straeh" or "ruoy"? Although none of the reversed 'words' are actually English words (except "on"), they all look fairly plausible as foreign or made-up words, and are reasonably pronounceable. To see why pronounceability is an aspect worth considering, think of people reading the book aloud for their children.

  • To obfuscate the cipher more thoroughly.

    It's a pretty simple cipher to crack anyway, for one who has any level of experience with such things, but it would be even easier if the spacing was done exactly right. It would be easy to notice, for instance, that "ruoy" is "your" backwards, or "wohs" "show". But by changing up the spacing, the writer is making the cipher just a little harder for readers to spot at once. That way, more people might be surprised when the inscription is revealed to be a cipher, and different readers could have fun discussing together which of them noticed it and which didn't.

  • I had thought of those reasons as well, but I was wondering if there were (preferably in-world) explanations for the specific choice of spacing. (I suppose "Erised" is left as 1 word for instance because Rowling wanted that to be the name of the mirror.) This mirror seems to be significant creation and a very important item within the book, so it bothers me to think that the spacing/wording was essentially chosen willy-nilly.
    – Kimball
    Sep 9, 2017 at 23:12
  • 1
    @Kimball Remember this is from Philosopher's Stone, which was a rather less serious and more child-friendly book than most of the others. At this point I imagine not too much of the overarching plot had been mapped out and a lot of things were chosen willy-nilly.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Sep 10, 2017 at 17:41

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