The 2010 edition of the “Encyclopedia of Contemporary Words” was recently put on sale by publisher?Jiyukokuminsha. The bulky paperback’s English title doesn’t really do justice to the Japanese name, which is “Gendai Yogo no Kiso Chishiki.” Broken down by its individual components, it becomes 現代 (gendai, present era or current); 用語 (yōgo, words or terms in use), 基礎 (kiso, basic); and 知識 (chishiki, knowledge). A more idiomatically translated title would be “Fundamental Knowledge of Terms in Current Use.”

This annual compendium, now in its 61st year, contains a whopping 1,734 pages of topics on just about everything under the sun, making it well worth the outlay of \3,000.

While the book incorporates the latest terms in business, science, technology, entertainment, sports and other fields — plus foreign-word adoptions and new acronyms — the part I always head for first is the section devoted to the latest teen slang.

This year’s selections included such neologisms as メガる (megaru), created by taking the Greek root “mega” for large and adding ru, the infinitive form of many Japanese verbs, to create a word that means “to get fat.” Another new hybrid takes high and low levels of the English word “tension,” as in tenshon takai (テンション高い, something feels good), as opposed to tenshon hikui (テンション低い, doesn’t do anything for me).

A popular term was 婚活 (konkatsu, hunting for a spouse), formed by combining 婚 (kon) from kekkon (結婚, marriage) and 活 (katsu) from katsudo ̄ (活動, activity).

Language scholars also pointed out the tendency of more young people to use 若干 (jakkan, a slight amount) instead of 少し (sukoshi, a little bit).

While 全然 (zenzen) is perfectly good Japanese for “utterly” or “completely,” some youngsters now use multiple repetition for added emphasis, saying, “zen-zen-zen-zen-zen.” (absolutely no way!), or to stress something negative, “nai-nai-nai-nai-nai.”

Another trend linguists spotted is the habit of asking a question in the negative to elicit agreement, as in “~shinai? (shall we do ~?)” For example: “Makudo de tabetakunai? (Shall we eat at McDonald’s?)”

On Dec. 1, as it has for 25 years, Jiyukokuminsha and its corporate sponsor U-Can, a publisher of educational materials, announced the results of its annual Ryukogo Taisho (流行語大賞, grand prix of popular expressions) poll, which names the 10 most popular terms of the year. In the latest batch are plenty of references to politics and the economy, which dominated the news during most of 2009.

Top prize went to Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama for 政権交代 (seiken kōtai, changeover in political power). In a landslide election victory on Aug. 30, Hatoyama’s Democratic Party of Japan swept the Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition members from power.

Second place went to 8-year-old child actor Seishiro Kato, who played kodomo tenchō (こども店長, child store manager) in a series of popular commercials for Toyota Motor Corp.

Rounding out the top five spots were: 事業仕分け (jigyō shiwake, sorting out operations) [a euphemism for government budget trimming]; 新型インフルエンザ (shingata infuruenza, H1N1 influenza, aka swine flu); and 草食男子 (sōshoku danshi, herbivorous men).

Credited to writer Maki Fukasawa in a 2006 magazine article about marketing, the last term caught on as a reference to the growing number of passive males who defy typical notions of masculinity.

Another word continuing to appear in the media is 派遣切り (haken-giri, temp-worker cutbacks). From the end of the 2008 fiscal year (March 31, 2009), many workers from 人材派遣会社 (jinzai haken gaisha, human resource dispatch firms) were laid off due to budget-cutting measures. Several hundred of these unfortunates congregated in Hibiya Park in the center of Tokyo, forming a “hobo camp” that the media named 派遣村 (haken-mura, temp-workers village).

Meanwhile, on Dec. 12, the annual poll conducted since 1995 by Nihon Kanji Noryoku Kentei Kyokai (日本漢字能力検定協会, the Japanese Kanji Proficiency Society) chose 新 (shin or atarashii, new), as its Kanji of the Year for 2009 — following on from 変 (hen, change) for 2008.

“New” is formed from the phonetic component 斤(kin, ono, a hatchet) and a mnemonic composed of 立 (tatsu, to stand) and 木 (ki, tree). So to prepare a field for “new” cultivation, one uses a “hatchet” to fell the “trees” that “stand.”

Of course, 新 is also a part of the compound 新年 (shinnen, new year). And on that note, I hereby belatedly wish everybody a happy and meaningful 2010.

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