Waiting at the railroad crossing, I couldn't help but overhear the animated conversation that the two students standing behind me were having.

Despite having studied Japanese for more than 10 years, I didn't have a clue what they were talking about. What on earth did jeikei, aidaburyu, emuemu and shibi mean? Were these guys even conversing in Japanese? It was only much later — long after the students had disappeared into the city's concrete jungle — that I realized they had been substituting alphabetical abbreviations for ordinary Japanese words: JK, IW, MM and CB. But it was not until much later that I discovered what these meant.

"KY-shiki Nihongo" ("KY-style Japanese"), a book published in February 2008 by Taishukan Shoten, contains popularly used abbreviations, including their meanings and usage. KY stands for kuki yomenai and refers to people who can't read "the air (kuki)," or intuitively understand a given situation and behave accordingly — a highly valued skill in Japanese society. The most infamous culprit of KY is former prime minister Shinzo Abe, whose cabinet is widely known as the "KY Cabinet."