Our Lives | JAPAN LITE

Frenemies, screenagers, kidults — kondo your English with these trending terms

How up-to-date is your English vocabulary? New words reflect a changing society and, as a result, new words are coined every day. Reading English newspapers and media from around the world can help you keep up with the changes. Here are some words I picked up recently on my travels.

Last month in Australia, the 161-year-old Melbourne-based newspaper The Age identified teens who are always looking at their iPads, video games and smartphones as screenagers. A clever substitution of the word “teen” with “screen” gives us a word that precludes the elderly — i.e., pensioners — perhaps because they still prefer to write mail and take notes with pens.

But the line between screenager and adult is more blurred than ever before, as the terms kidult, rejuvenile and adultescent are increasingly used to refer to grown-ups who like things traditionally intended for children, such as cartoons, toys, computer games and — yep — even Disney movies (gotcha!). An advertisement for Kellogg’s Mini Wheats cereal boasts that it is “For the kidult in you.”

But being young isn’t all that great, according to American political commentator Bill Maher, who talked about millennial anger on a recent episode of his TV show. The Millennial Generation (aged between 8 and 28) in the U.S. have it pretty tough. Millennials in their 20s have the highest unemployment rate since the Great Depression of the 1930s. Recent graduates are frustrated that they can’t find jobs and thus are furious at the government, capitalism — even their own parents — all of whom they feel have ruined the American economy.

The Australian, Oz’s top-selling national newspaper, uses the word transgenerational theft to describe the tendency to take from the young and employed (taxes, benefits, etc.) to pay the debts of the old (pensions, health care, etc.). This is sure to become a growing problem, as developed countries the world over are having a hard time keeping up with the baby boomers, who are living longer and using more benefits than people ever have before.

In addition, it is increasingly difficult, in our way-too-accessible online lives, to understand who is a friend and who may be just a frenemy. The Economist described U.S. President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as “frenemies,” meaning enemies disguised as friends.

And the strange weather isn’t helping the general sanity of the world either. Recent winters have brought arctic outbreaks (frigid air moving southward from the Canadian Arctic) to the U.S., as well as the polar vortex (cold-core low-pressure areas from either Canada or Siberia). Siberian Express is a term specifically referring to outbreaks from Siberia. I imagine the name gives it a more transitory feel, as if it arrived on a train from the north. At least we can blame it on the Russians.

And let’s not forget that over in the U.S. they have another opponent to deal with — stuff The Wall Street Journal has identified as culinary enemies: food high in calories, saturated fats, sodium and added sugars. We used to just call it junk food, but I guess with all the McThis and McThat thrown at people these days, they can’t spot a culinary frenemy when they see one.

One thing that will undoubtedly help lift the vog (the colloquial term in Hawaii to describe fog-like volcanic emissions from an active volcano) is that nowadays people are enjoying more workations (work + vacation). This term (according to some Target employees I met in a hot tub in Oahu who had moved to Hawaii for a couple months to open a new store) was used to describe a job that is so good (in this case because of the location) that you can feel like you’re on vacation part of the time.

And to prove that the effects of work, weather and junk food may be detrimental only to the degree you allow them to be, a Canadian tourist agency warned its tour group of impending rain one Oahu morning by writing on the board in the hotel lobby, “Today we may experience some liquid sunshine, so be sure to bring an umbrella.”

Lastly, according to the WSJ, a Japanese word has recently entered the American lexicon. That word is kondo, and the moniker of the author of the best-selling “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” is used as a verb to mean “purging or meticulous folding.” Marie Kondo’s book has Americans asking themselves, “Does it spark joy?” (from tokimeku in the Japanese). A nonaffirmative response indicates the person should purge the offending article from their life — forever.

While it sounds more like a question to ask when trying to decide whether to keep your current boyfriend or not, according to the article you can kondo your garage (tidy it up), kondo your dresser drawers (fold and neaten everything) or kondo your closet (get rid of anything you haven’t worn in the past year). I suppose we should expect no fewer sparks of joy from our possessions than we would from each other.

So, go ahead and try out some new vocabulary. And you might want to go kondo your house now, because those may be frenemies you’re having over for dinner.

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