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Looking back on 2010 one word at a time

by Mark Schreiber

Perched majestically at the summit of the clutter on my desk this sunny December morning is a copy of the 2011 edition of Jiyukokuminsha’s 「現代用語の基礎知識」(“Gendai Yōgo no Kiso Chishiki,” “Encyclopedia of Contemporary Words”) — all 1,688 pages of it.

Since 1948, this annual publication, the latest of which went on sale Nov. 18, has been the acknowledged authority on the evolution of the Japanese language. A joint effort by dozens of linguists, lexicographers and other academics, the hefty paperback parades what it claims are 27,000 neologisms, new political concepts and scientific terms, acronyms, recent foreign word borrowings, and domestically generated slang since the 2010 edition. New from this year is the use of color coding for indexing the sections.

After lugging the weighty tome back home each year, I invariably jump first to 時代・流行 (jidai, Era / ryūkō, Trends), which has a sub-section named 最近語 (saikingo, most recent words). Among this year’s entries were グーグル症 (gūguru-shō, Google syndrome), which is used to describe hypochondriacs who eschew consulting a physician, and instead input their real or imagined symptoms into the eponymous search engine to discover — to their dismay — that they suffer from some rare and horrible disease.

Another item was acknowledgement of the increasing use of the suffix 離れ (-banare, to divest oneself from) in such terms as 車離れ (kuruma-banare, giving up owning a car), 海外旅行離れ (kagai ryokō-banare, no longer taking vacations abroad) and even ビール離れ (bīru-banare, giving up beer for some other beverage).

The section under the heading 若者 (wakamono, young people) is full of teen patois. Most of these terms enjoy a short lifespan and some may already be extinct by the time they appear in print. Among the more amusing terms I encountered were マッパ (mappa, a truncation of mappadaka, meaning stark naked); 爆睡する(bakusui suru, to sleep like the dead); and おわてっる (owatteru, from the verb owaru, finished, but in this case meaning hopeless, finished, done for). And while Twitter is generally translated into Japanese as 呟く (tsubuyaku, to murmur), youngsters have coined a new verb, ツイる (tsuiru) — meaning to “tweet,” i.e., send messages via the micro-blogging service.

On Dec. 1, publishers Jiyukokuminsha and U-Can held their annual event to announce the 2010 ユーキャン新語・流行語大賞 (2010 U-Can shingo/ryūkōgo taishō, new and trendy word grand prix). The winner for 2010 was ゲゲゲの (Gegege no. . . ), a reference to artist Shigeru Mizuki’s “GeGeGe no Kitarō” manga series about the adventures of a yōkai (a type of Japanese goblin) named Kitaro, which dates back to 1959.

Mizuki has been enjoying a revival thanks to NHK’s morning drama “Gegege no Nyōbō” (“GeGeGe’s Wife”), based on the autobiography of Mizuki’s wife, Nunoe, who’s portrayed on TV by 25-year-old actress and classical pianist Nao Matsushita. Mizuki lost an arm in New Guinea during the Pacific War, and clearly owes much of his success to his better half.

This writer first became familiar with Mizuki through Frederik L. Schodt’s superb 1983 book, “Manga! Manga! The World of Japanese Comics,” but I never paid much attention to the derivation of “Gegege.” It seems that as a boy, Mizuki had trouble pronouncing “Shigeru,” which came out as “Gegeru,” and the nickname stuck.

Some of the other winners for 2010 included:

• いい質問ですねえ! (ii shitsumon desu ne, that’s a good question! [2nd place]), a frequent exclamation by TV journalist Akira Ikegami — the former host of an NHK news program for children — in which he engages adult guests on his show to explain the complexities of current events.

• イクメン (ikumen, [3rd place]). This word parodies the slang word イケメン ikemen, good-looking hunks) to describe the relatively new phenomenon (in Japan at least) of fathers who get involved in child-rearing. It combines 育 (iku, also read as hagukumu, and meaning to nurture or bring up) with the English word “men.”

• なう nau (9th place). From the English “now,” this cyberspeak term, adopted by users of Twitter and other social media, is often attached as a suffix to indicate one’s current location, activity, food, etc.

• 無縁社会 (muen shakai, alienated society, [10th place]). Popularized by broadcaster NHK, it refers to the common perception that familial and personal relationships are eroding — as is evident by the growing number of single-person households.