Language | BILINGUAL

Buzzwords show the changing face of Japanese in 2012

by Mark Schreiber

Special To The Japan Times

While hamming it up before the TV cameras on a diving board last September, entertainer “Sugi-chan” (real name: Eiji Sugiyama) suffered a fractured thoracic vertebrae.

Wild, right? Or as the chunky 39-year-old entertainer — easily recognizable in his blue denim shirt with cutoff sleeves and short pants — likes to put it, ワイルドだろぉ (wairudo darō, I’m wild, aren’t I)?

Sugi-chan’s trademark catchphrase was named winner of the 2012 ユーキャン流行語大賞 (U-CAN ryūkōgo taishō, U-CAN buzzword grand prix) at the awards ceremony on Dec. 3. The annual event has been held since 1984. Below are some of the other Top 10 winners:

iPS細胞 : (iPS saibō, Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells) This term was all over the news after Professor Shinya Yamanaka of Kyoto University was awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine together with the U.K.’s John B. Gurdon.

維新 : (ishin, restoration). Until recently this term was typically applied to 明治維新 (Meiji Ishin, the Meiji Restoration of 1868) but has been resurrected by Osaka’s controversial mayor, Toru Hashimoto and his supporters.

LCC : Low cost carriers. The English term seems to have won the day here. In Japanese they are referred to as 格安航空会社 (kakuyasu kōkūgaisha, literally, cheap or reasonable airlines).

終活 : (shūkatsu, final preparations). Not to be confused with 就活 (shūkatsu, which is short for 就職活動 [shūshoku katsudō, job hunting activities]). The 終 (shū) is also read owari (the end), but here is taken to mean final preparations, such as drawing up a will or making arrangements for one’s own funeral and burial. The term was credited to journalist 金子哲雄 (Kaneko Tetsuo), who eloquently chronicled his losing battle with a lung tumor before passing away in October at age 41.

近いうちに : (chikai uchi ni, sometime soon) Back in August, Prime Minister Noda was asked when the Diet would 解散 (kaisan, be dissolved) to hold elections. He gave this as an intentionally vague reply.

A sampling of contemporary teen talk


アド変 (adohen, to change one’s email address), from アドレス (adoresu, address) and 変更 (henkō, to change).

アツイ (atsui, literally hot). Something that’s popular.

ぼっち飯 (bocchi-meshi,) to eat alone. From the word 一人ぼっち, (hitori bocchi, all by oneself) and meshi, rice or a meal.

デ禁 dekin, short for 出入り禁止 (deiri kinshi, prohibited from coming and going), i.e., to be grounded by one’s parents.

ディスる (disuru, to show disrespect). Adopted from the American teen slang “to diss” someone.

逆パカ (gyaku-paka, to break by twisting backwards). When a young woman decides to break up with a boyfriend, she will “gyaku-paka ni suru” (flip open his cell phone and snap it in two).

はずい (hazui, shy or embarrassed). Shortened from 恥ずかしい (hazukashii), with the same meaning.

イラコラ (irakora, grumpy and angry). Made by combining イライラ (iraira, grumpy) and 怒ってる (okotteru, angry).

借りパク (karipaku) is made by combining 借りる kariru, to borrow) and パクる pakuru, to steal), to mean to borrow something with no intention of returning it.

二度見 (nidomi, literally see twice). To show surprise by doing a double take.

(numa, a unattractive male). Numa normally means a swamp, but is used here as the opposite of 池 (ike, a pond), a homonym for the first two syllables of イケメン (ikemen, a hunk).

パニクる (panikuru, to panic or freak out).

プリチープ (puri chīpu, pretty but cheap) something that is inexpensive and cute.

恋愛ニート (renai nīto, no romantic prospects), from renai, (love) and NEET (an acronym for Not in Education, Employment or Training). A person who’s abandoned hope of finding romance.

ソースは? (sōsu wa?, what’s the source?), i.e., where did you hear about that?

タヒ (tahi, death), so said because the components in the kanji 死 (shi, death) contain the katakana characters タ and ヒ under the top line.

手ぶらで帰らせるわけにはいかない : (tebura de kaeraseru wake ni wa ikanai, We can’t let him go home empty handed). So said by Olympic swimmer Takeshi Matsuda of his senpai (senior) teammate Kosuke Kitajima, who had failed to capture an individual medal. Kitajima and Matsuda teamed up for a silver medal in the men’s 400m relay.

爆弾低気圧 : (bakudan teikiatsu, low pressure bomb). Formed by 爆弾 (bakudan, bomb) and 低気圧 (teikiatsu, low air pressure). These were blamed for numerous instances of freak weather brought on by sudden declines in atmospheric pressure.

Interestingly, one of the nominees, 生保 (namapo, welfare benefits) was summarily disqualified out of political correctness. Namapo is abbreviated from 生活保護 (seikatsu hogo, livelihood assistance) and given the somewhat contemptuous-sounding readings of 生 (nama, uncooked or raw) instead of sei (life) and 保 (ho [read as po in this case], to protect). Irate netizens voiced such complaints to the organizer as 差別や悪意がこもった言葉が大賞に選ばれていいのか (Sabetsu ya akui ga komotta kotoba ga taishō ni erabarete ii no ka? Is it proper to pick a word for the grand prix that smacks of discrimination and spite?).

Closely involved in the annual buzzword grand prix since its inception is 「現代用語の基礎知識」 (“Gendai Yogo no Kiso Chishiki,” literally, basic knowledge of contemporary words in use). First published by Jiyukokumin-sha in 1948, the book observes its 65th anniversary this year. The 1,600 pages in the 2013 edition cover four special themes including 15 questions and answers about radiation, sources of natural energy and a section on how to harness “contemporary words” to impress one’s interviewers and hopefully succeed in landing a job.

My favorite section, covering new slang and jargon popular among youth, begins on page 1,144. One of the book’s editors once advised me that by the time such words find their way into print, they are often already out of fashion.

In general teen lingo tends to shorten terms so that they are barely recognizable. Many are hybrids of Japanese and English, such as in オールする (ōru suru) — combining the English “all” with suru (to do), and meaning to stay up all night with a lover or friend.

The sidebar on the right contains a selection of new expressions.

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