On Dec. 1, publisher Jiyukokumin-sha announced that the winner of its annual 流行語大賞 (ryūkōgo taishō, buzzword grand prix) for 2011 was 撫子ジャパン (Nadeshiko Japan). This of course is the name of the winners of the Women’s Soccer World Cup held last June-July, and you can hardly blame the voters for picking a word that relates to one of the happier moments in an otherwise pretty dismal year.
Nadeshiko (撫子, scientific name Dianthus superbus) is a sweetly scented pink flower that, when preceded by 大和 (Yamato, the ancient name for Japan), has been applied poetically to extol Japanese womanhood. However, because the character in nadeshiko is also used for the verb 撫でる (naderu), meaning to fondle or stroke, this has invited bloggers on some websites to pun the word as nadekko (or nadecco), supposedly meaning a girl who is the object of a man’s affection (or lust).
Many of the nominees for the year’s top buzzwords, and five out of the Top 10 selected, were related in some way to the 東日本大震災 (Higashi Nihon Daishinsai, Great East Japan Earthquake). These included 3.11 (san-ichi-ichi, March 11), and 絆 (kizuna, close personal bonds or solidarity — used to describe the efforts by volunteers to support disaster victims). The chief abbot of Kiyomizu Temple in Kyoto also designated kizuna as the kanji character that best represented 2011.
Due to interruptions in the transportation network caused by the quake, millions of commuters on March 11 found themselves 帰宅難民 (kitaku nanmin, returner refugees), forced to walk for long distances to return home, or spend the night in offices or rail stations.
Another quake-related term in the Top 10 was 風評被害 (fūhyō higai), referring to economic damage caused by unfounded rumors following the Fukushima reactor accidents. The literal translation would be something like “damages caused by remarks blown about.” Fūhyō, consisting of the characters for kaze (wind) and hyō (comment or criticism) is not necessarily a disparaging term. For instance, a person can be referred to as being 世間の風評 (seken no fūhyō, the talk of the town).
Sponsorship of the grand prix is used to promote Jiyukokumin-sha’s best-known publication — an enormous softcover reference book titled 「現代用語の基礎知識」 (“Gendai Yogo no Kiso Chishiki”). The English title that appears on the cover is “Encyclopedia of Contemporary Terms,” but a direct translation from Japanese would be “basic knowledge of words in current use.” The 2012 edition, which runs to 1,588 pages, devotes a section to world events, so you can see how Japanese deal with such neologisms as アラブの春 (Arabu no Haru, Arab Spring).
After lugging the book home I habitually turn first to the section marked 若者 (wakamono, youth), which contains a nine-page assortment of the latest teenage patois. These terms come with a disclaimer, however: The book’s editor-in-chief once warned me that by the time adults compile these terms into the encyclopedia, many are もう古い (mō furui, no longer in vogue).
Recent teen slang is often generated from and transmitted by codes for abbreviating emails and cellphone text messages. One new trend has been to use the English words in the form of なう (nau, now), わず (wazu, was) and うぃる (uiru, will), to indicate present, past, or future tense. A succinct message might read 渋谷なう (Shibuya nau) to indicate the sender is in Shibuya now.
The initial “J” in 女子 joshi (female) is now commonly used to spin off the initials JC, JK and JD, referring respectively to joshi chūgakusei, joshi kōsei and joshi daisei (female middle school, high school and university students).
Trendy terms can be inventive and expressive, such as ドクカワ (dokukawa), made by combining 毒 (doku, poison) and 可愛い (kawaii, cute) to mean a girl who seems adorable at first glance but who possesses some dark or malicious aspect to her personality. And おはよう (ohayō, good morning), is now being used by some as a greeting to people met for the first time on any given day, irrespective of the time.
From several years ago, two words became popularized to describe the behavior of young adults. They are 草食系 (sōshoku-kei, herbivorous, but here meaning “passive”) and 肉食系 (nikushoku-kei, carnivorous, meaning “masculine” and/or “aggressive”). These in turn have spawned the more recent term ロールキャベツ (rōrukyabetsu, rolled cabbage), referring to a man who appears wimpy on the exterior but is actually masculine in his behavior — because rolled cabbage typically contains a filling of meat.
Other new teen patois in the 2012 book included the shortening of narubeku hayaku (as soon as possible) to なるはや (naruhaya); ヒャクパー (hyakupā short for 百パーセント hyaku pāsento, 100 percent), in this case meaning absolutely or completely; and ドンマイ (don-mai, don’t mind it), i.e., don’t let it bother you.