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Editors to single out buzzword of the year

by Jun Hongo

Amplification of the Japanese language reaches its annual culmination every December when editors of Gendai Yougo no Kisochishiki (Encyclopedia of Contemporary Words) crown a word or a phrase as its “ryuko go taisho” — buzzword of the year.

The grand prize is chosen by the encyclopedia’s editors, who pick a term from a nominee list compiled from readers’ surveys. Past selections have reflected the times, including perestroika, the 1988 buzzword, and bubble “keizai” (bubble economy) a term that received a nomination in 1990.

But after the bubble burst, “Nihon retto so fukyo” (Recession in all of Japan), a phrase used by former Economic Planning Agency chief Taichi Sakaiya, made the list in 1998.

The 2007 candidates, which were revealed before the announcement of the winner Monday, include “otomodachi Naikaku” (Cabinet of buddies), a reference to former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s dysfunctional Cabinet, and “kieta nenkin” (vanished pension payments), a phrase used to describe the mismanagement of pension payment records by the Social Insurance Agency.

But the iconic phrase of the year, despite its political turmoil and corporate scandals, may come down to a match between half-naked dancing comedian Yoshio Kojima and “Oshirikajiri mushi,” a buttock-biting cartoon character popularized by NHK.

“Trendy gags are always the favorite candidate because of their ability to reach a wide range of users,” explained Chikara Kato, professor of linguistics at the Sugiyama Jogakuen University in Aichi Prefecture.

“Even small children are repeating ‘Oppappii,’ ” Kato said, referring to Kojima’s routine punch line.

Ryuko go taisho was launched by the encyclopedia’s publisher, Jiyukokuminsha, in 1984, to crown widely recognized phrases that reflect the trends of the times.

Among the list of 60 candidates for the annual buzzword this year is “sonnano kanke ne” (who gives a damn), a phrase sung by Kojima during his perplexing dance moves, which is followed by a chant of the indistinct phrase, “oppappii” — another nominated word.

Following its 1999 hit song “Dango San Kyodai” (“Three Dumpling Brothers”), NHK returned to the list with another hit character and a song from one of its programs, Oshirikajiri mushi, whose literal translation is “buttock-biting insect.” The character, created by animator duo UrumaDelvi, is a fairy that “brings happiness to human beings by biting their bottoms,” according to NHK.

“Giza kawayusu,” a nominated term meaning “very cute,” was coined by female idol Shoko Nakagawa in her widely popular online blog. The phrase is a deformed combination of computing unit giga and “kawaii” (cute).

Transvestite makeup artist Ikko’s signature slang “donda ke?” also came in to fashion among teenagers with its accompanying finger snaps. The term has many meanings and literally translates as “how much?” but is generally used to mean “what the hell?” or to reveal amazement.

Although “Billy’s Boot Camp,” (a DVD workout program) “Hutsugo na Shinjitsu” (Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth”) and “Dice-K,” a reference to Boston Red Sox pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka, were included on the list, many of the 60 candidates are abbreviations, rephrased terms or idioms combining Japanese with English — which reflects the handiness of the language in creating a coined expression.

But the plethora of trendy terms usually expires within years, if not months.

“The coming and going of the terms has accelerated so much that, by the time a new year begins, many of the words become threadbare phrases,” Sugiyama Jogakuen’s Kato said. The expert claimed that “Idioms Used by Young Adults,” a 400-word dictionary he published in March 2006, already consists of seldom used terms.

Such a pattern is evident with past annual buzzwords, including last year’s “Ina Bauer,” a technique employed by figure skater Shizuka Arakawa during her gold-medal winning performance at the Turin Olympics.

The inaugural buzzword in 1984 was awarded to “Oshindrome,” a term that appeared in Time magazine to illustrate the popularity of TV drama “Oshin.” The word, along with many others, including “Ina Bauer,” have become obsolete, so avoiding the fall into oblivion can be tricky.

“The IT revolution has flooded society with information, but many things appear and disappear very fast,” Kato explained.

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