The end of every year, publishers and other media organizations love to turn out lists of people, things and words that made the news. Back in 1984, publisher Jiyu Kokumin-sha organized a poll to recognize and award the Ryukogo Taisho (Buzzwords of the Year).
Ryukogo (popular word) is composed of ryu or nagareru (to flow), combined with ko or yuku (to go), which gives us a nuance of “going with the flow,” i.e., trendy. Ryuko also has a medical application as in ryukosei meaning contagious or easily spread.
Jiyu Kokumin-sha organized the contest to promote its longselling book, “Gendai Yogo no Kiso Chishiki (Encyclopedia of Contemporary Words).” Now in its 60th year, the huge 1,654-page annual compendium of new words, phrases, slang, jargon and acronyms covers dozens of categories. After screening 60 candidates, the top 10 words were announced with great fanfare on Dec. 3.
As it turned out, in a rare example of regional dialect hitting the jackpot, Miyazaki Gov. Hideo Higashikokubaru, was accorded top honors with Dogenka, sen to ikan (Somehow, we have to do it), his exhortation before the assembly of his economically ailing prefecture.
In standard Japanese, this would be, Do ni ka shinakereba naranai — quite different indeed. I queried several native Tokyoites to ask if they had understood the governor’s pronouncement. Their replies ranged from “Nantonaku naiyo ga wakaru (Somehow I got the gist of it)” to “Chinpun kanpun da (It’s completely Greek to me).”
Sharing the Grand Prix with a politician was Hanikami Oji (Bashful Prince), which is the name the media has accorded to 16-year-old golf prodigy Ryo Ishikawa. Hanikamu means to be shy, but here the word nicely parodies the nickname of another teen sports hero, baseball sensation Yuki Saito, who was called Hankachi Oji (handkerchief prince). Some of the other buzzwords that finished the top 10 included kieta nenkin (vanished pension funds), a phrase muttered by Health, Labour and Welfare Minister Yoichi Masuzoe to describe the mismanagement of pension payment records by the Social Insurance Agency (3rd place) and shokuhin giso (false labeling of foods), following a year of successive stories revealing manufacturers’ mislabeling the contents of food products, disregard for the freshness dates of ingredients or use of slipshod sanitation methods (7th place).
Other buzzwords that slamdunked into the top 10 included:
* Netto kafe nanmin (Net cafe refugees): Credited to Shohei Kawasaki, who authored the eponymous book about people down on their luck who are forced to seek shelter in cafes (8th).
* Ogui (literally, big eating): Awarded to TV “food fighter” Gal Sone, a woman whose capacity to engorge herself puts many sumo wrestlers to shame (9th).
I was somewhat disappointed to find that a few of my own favorites failed to make it to the top 10. One was “KY” (pronounced “kei-wai”) that is verbal shorthand for kuki ga yomenai (the air cannot be read), as in “Kuki o yomenai yatsu (That guy has a hard time acting the right way in social situations).”
A politician got himself in hot water last year for a notorious shitsugen (inappropriate words). In February, Health, Labour and Welfare Minister Hakuo Yanagisawa gained instant notoriety by referring to women as umu kikai (birth-giving machines).
Last but not least, how about a buzzword from the blogosphere? It seems shortly after prime minister Shinzo Abe abruptly announced his resignation on Sept. 12, a columnist for the Asahi Shimbun claimed to have overheard that bloggers on the Web had begun using the rather contemptuous term Abe suru — literally, “to Abe” — as a verb meaning “to quit abruptly” or “to cop out.”
Weekly magazine Shukan Shincho (Oct. 11), however, voiced skepticism, suggesting that the term had been purposely coined by someone — at the Asahi perhaps? — and posted it anonymously on blogs to give the false impression of spontaneity.
Given the transitory nature of buzzwords in general (after all, who remembers words like 1988’s Hanamoku (flower Thursday) — from the halcyon times of the economic bubble era — any more?), I’d say the chances of Mr. Abe’s brief and insignificant tenure as PM being commemorated with a belittling verb of anonymous origin are nonexistent.