Back in 1948 a publisher named 自由国民社 (Jiyūkokumin-sha, literally, “Free Citizens Co.”), aware of the flood of new words — particularly American military acronyms — that Japanese were encountering since the end of the Pacific War, published a small compendium of neologisms titled 現代用語の基礎知識 (Gendai Yōgo no Kiso Chishiki), which translates as “Fundamental Knowledge of Contemporary Words in Use.”
Now in its 68th year, the annual has swollen to a massive 1,368-page paperback. The 2017 edition went on sale in mid-November priced at ¥2,970. It was previously titled “The Encyclopedia of Contemporary Words,” but from 2015 it adopted a new English title — “The Yearbook of the Contemporary Society” — and the cover of the 2017 edition is adorned with Kumamoto’s lovable bear mascot Kumamon, captioned (in English only) “Pray for Kumamoto.” The prefecture, of course, weathered a series of destructive earthquakes in April.
My favorite part of the yearbook has always been the section titled 若者 (wakamono, young people), which provides a half-dozen or so pages of the latest teenage slang. One amusing example I spotted in the new issue was 風呂リダ (furorida), which looks like how Japanese might spell the name of the Sunshine State. Actually, it’s teen shorthand for 風呂に入るために一時的にLINEから離脱すること (furo ni hairu tame ne, ichijiteki ni Rain kara ridatsu suru koto, to temporarily disengage from the Line smartphone messaging app while taking a bath).
Together with a publisher of educational materials named ユーキャン (Yūkyan, i.e., “you can”), Jiyūkokumin-sha cosponsors the annual 流行語大賞 (ryūkōgo taishō, buzzword grand prix), the results of which were announced to the media with much fanfare on Dec. 1.
The buzzword grand prix dates back to 1984, when the winner was オシンドローム (oshindorōmu), a portmanteau coined by author Jane Condon combining “Oshin” with “syndrome” to describe the popularity of an NHK 朝ドラ (asa dora, morning drama) conveying the life story of a plucky girl named Oshin who overcame poverty and misfortune.
The full list of past 年間大賞 (nenkan taishō, annual winners) can be viewed at singo.jiyu.co.jp/old/index.html.
The Japan Times’ Daisuke Kikuchi reported the story three weeks ago (bit.ly/jtbuzzwords2016) so there’s no point in repeating it, except to say the year’s top pick was 神ってる (kamitteru), a made-up word coined by transforming the noun 神 (kami, god) into a verb.
Kamitteru refers to the athletic prowess of 22-year-old Hiroshima Carp superstar 鈴木誠也 (Seiya Suzuki), who led his team to the Central League baseball pennant with a 打率 (daritsu, batting average) of .335, 95 打点 (daten, runs batted in) and 29 本塁打 (honruida, home runs).
While the “god” referred to in this case may have Shinto origins, it does not refer to any particular denomination and, since it’s meant to be in good fun, accusations of 冒涜 (bōtoku, blasphemy) are to be avoided. For that reason I concur with our staff reporter’s English rendering of kamitteru as “superhuman behavior.”
In reaction to this year’s winner, American TV entertainer Dave Spector quipped, もっとも流行していない流行語大賞を発表→神ってる (mottomo ryūkō shiteinai ryūkōgo taishō o happyō → kamitteru, “They announced the least popular buzzword ever: kamitteru“). OK, it’s impossible to please everyone, but it seems that over the last few years more people have been criticizing the selection of grand prix winners, and this might not bode well for the event’s future. Or as Japanese would say,見通しは暗い (Mitōshi wa kurai, “The outlook is gloomy”).
The grand prix event was also parodied in least two weekly magazines. Spa! magazine ran lists for two consecutive weeks (Dec. 6, Dec. 13). My favorite was a list of the top 10 若者ディス (wakamono disu), i.e., phrases, expressions or questions young people are likely to regard as disrespectful to them. For example, remarking, ネットの知識じゃなくて、もっと本読めよ (Netto no chishiki ja nakute, motto hon yome yo, “Instead of getting information from the internet, you should read more books”).
The Dec. 8 issue of Shukan Asahi Geino, meanwhile, featured its own list of “underground” buzzwords, most with risque connotations as befits that male-oriented magazine’s style.
Looking to the year ahead, it’s fairly easy to predict some words we’ll be seeing often. One will almost certainly be 生前退位 (seizen tai’i, abdication), written with characters meaning “to withdraw from a position during one’s lifetime.” Emperor Akihito, who turns 83 this coming Friday, has expressed his wish to retire, possibly terminating the current Heisei Period in its 29th or 30th year and ushering in a new 年号 (nengō, Imperial era).
For calendar printers, publishers and other businesses, it would obviously be convenient for the next era to begin on 元旦 (gantan, New Year’s Day), but the government may decide otherwise.
Another likely development will be a surge in new terms related to American society and politics. One that recently popped up is オルタナ右翼 (orutana uyoku, alt-right), a reference to the white nationalist movement whose followers communicate mostly via social media. In Japan, a similar political movement is called ネットウヨ (netto-uyo), short for インターネット右翼 (intānetto uyoku, “internet right wing”).
My tried-and-true word-watching technique, in case you’re curious, is to scribble down unfamiliar terms on the spot and then transfer them to yellow or orange Post-it notes, which I stick in conspicuous places around my computer monitor.
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