Once again, the massive reference book 「現代用語の基礎知識」(“Gendai Yōgo no Kiso Chishiki,” “The Encyclopedia of Contemporary Words”) is on sale. This annual publication that tracks additions to, and changes in, the Japanese language and various world developments over the previous year is a whopper — this year it’s 1,484 pages. And thanks to the boost in the consumption tax last April, its price exceeded ¥3,000 for the first time ever (¥3,132, tax included).
I think it’s still well worth the outlay. Its publisher 自由国民社 (Jiyūkokumin-sha) promotes the book thusly: 言葉を探すだけではなく、読み進んでも楽しい (Kotoba wo sagasu dake de wa naku, yomi susunde mo tanoshī, You can not only search for words, but it’s also enjoyable to proceed with reading [about them]). 辞書にないことばをフォローし、画像も充実 (Jisho ni nai kotoba wo forō shi, gazō mo jūjitsu. Follow words that aren’t in the dictionary, [it’s] also complete with illustrations).
Of course, some words start becoming archaic even in our lifetimes, and their usage betrays one’s advancing age. Last summer I had to coach myself out of referring to short pants as 半ズボン (han-zubon) after I realized that younger people refer to them as 半パン (han-pan).
That’s all the more reason for an old fogey like me to devote more time to poring over the parts of the book that introduce new jargon used by young people. One new word is MKノー (emu-ke no), so said by office workers to put down an obstinate boss. It stands for 見たこともない、聞いたこともない (mita koto mo nai, kita koto mo nai, never seen it and never heard of it).
Teens tend to talk in trendy truncated terms like ハズい (hazui), which is an abbreviation of 恥ずかしい (hazukashī, shy or ashamed); ヒャクパー (hyaku-pā), which is short for 百パセント (hyaku pāsento, 100 percent), meaning perfect or complete; and イケボ (ikebo, having a sexy voice) — from イケメン (ikemen, handsome man) and ボイス the Japanese pronunciation of the English word “voice.”
Other fanciful words that you may want to acquire before a trip to Harajuku or other popular haunts of young people might include NNT (enu-enu-ti), which is an abbreviation of 無い内定 (nai-naitei, unable to land a job before university graduation); 二度見 (nidomi, to see twice), meaning to do a double take in surprise; and finally ロデ男 (rode-o, literally, “rodeo man”), a play on the words “rodeo” and otoko (man), meaning a gent whose lady friend wants to lead him around to show him off.
Each December, Jiyūkokumin-sha, the encyclopedia’s publisher, and U-CAN Inc., a marketer of educational materials, team up at a gala event to recognize the buzzwords of the year, in what they call the 流行語大賞 (Ryūkōgo taishō, literally, “Popular word grand prix”). For 2014, two words took the top prize. One was 集団的自衛権 (shūdanteki jieiken, right of collective self-defense). This controversial reinterpretation of Article 9 of Japan’s pacifist Constitution allows Japanese forces to assist allies under attack.
The other was “ダメよ～ダメダメ” (“Dame yo! Dame, dame!,” “No way! No, no!”) The 落ち (ochi, punch line) of raunchy skits performed by comedy duo 日本エレキテル連合 (Nihon Erekiteru Rengō, Japan Electrical Union). Koyuki Hashimoto, in the guise of an animated “Dutch wife” (love doll) with a whitened face, repeats that phrase when fending off the suggestive advances of Soko Nakamura, her much shorter partner clad in male clothing.
Some observers wondered about this year’s choice. Is “Dame yo! Dame, dame!” intended as a expression of opposition to shūdanteki jieiken?
The contest organizer insisted that the choice of the two was completely unrelated, telling J-Cast News, “並べることを考えて大賞の2語を選んだわけではなく, たまたまそうなっただけです” (“Naraberu koto wo kangaete taishō no ni-go wo eranda wake de wa naku, tamatama sō natta dake desu,” “We did not pick the two words with the thought of juxtaposing them; it only happened that way by chance”).
There are many other picks from the year’s top 10 that reflected changes in pop culture:
ありのままで (ari no mama de, as I am) is the translation of a line from the song “Let It Go” in the hit Disney animated film “Frozen.”
カープ女子 (Kāpu jyoshi, Carp girls) is based on Atsuko Ishida’s manga “Kyūjō Lovers” (“Ballpark Lovers”) — it refers to high school girls who become fanatical fans of the Hiroshima Toyo Carp baseball team.
壁ドン (kabe-don, wall bump) is when a man leans over a woman with one hand pressed on the wall behind her. It was featured in the romantic movie “L-DK,” based on the eponymous manga series by Ayu Watanabe.
危険ドラッグ (kiken doraggu, dangerous drug), formerly called 脱法ドラグ (dappō doragu, law-evading drugs), refers to drugs that could be purchased over the counter, due to a legal loophole. After several fatal traffic accidents involving users, authorities launched a crackdown — hence their new name.
ごきげんよう (gokigen yō, take care) is a somewhat elegant and formal expression, usually said when parting, from the NHK morning drama “Hanako to Anne” broadcast earlier this year.
This summing up of new words at the end of each year serves as more evidence of Japanese speakers’ insatiable appetite for fresh vocabulary and new ideas.