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Nihongo on the go: Words to know in 2018

by

Contributing Writer

On Nov. 9, the new 現代用語の 基礎知識 (Gendai Yōgo no Kiso Chishiki) went on sale. Its “official” English name as appears on the cover is “The 2018 Year Book of the Contemporary Society” — although in this writer’s opinion its Japanese name, directly translated, is something like “The Basic Knowledge of Contemporary Terms.”

The book’s 1948 edition came out in autumn of 1947, and this year publisher Jiyukokuminsha is celebrating its 70th birthday with a special cover design. Superimposed over a gold 結び切り (musubikiri, celebratory cord) are the characters for 言葉 (kotoba, word) written using the ancient style called 大篆 (daiten, great seal), from China’s Bronze Age. If it’s intended to suggest the book is a work of great antiquity, then so am I.

Alas, the little store in my neighborhood where I’d regularly purchased the book for the past 30 years or so closed its doors, and is now a grooming salon for dogs. And since at 1,382 pages it’s a weighty tome indeed, I decided to ask Amazon Japan to ship it to my house, with ¥2,750 deducted from my credit card. At a slightly higher price, the book is available in a B5 size version with large print.

The book’s 帯 (obi, meaning a belt, although in this case the printed band of paper folded around its base) bears a caricature of TV savant Akira Ikegami, who in this year’s edition contributed a historical overview titled 言葉で辿る戦後ニッポン (Kotoba de tadoru sengo Nippon, In pursuit of postwar Japan through words).

The reverse side of the obi starts off with 今年、 新たに収録された用語 (kotoshi arata ni shūroku sareta yōgo, this year’s newly recorded terms) and lists some prime examples, starting with ファースト (fāsuto, first), 働き方改革 (hatarakikata kaikaku, work-style reform), 忖度 (sontaku, surmise or conjecture), 道徳の教科化 (dōtoku no kyōka-ka, instruction of morals as part of the curriculum) and 共謀罪 (kyōbōzai, criminal conspiracy).

The majority of contents feature explanations of words in the news. A term regarding Japan-China relations, 戦略的互恵関係 (senryakuteki gokei kankei, mutually beneficial relationship based on common strategic interests), was coined during Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to China in October 2006 and reiterated by both parties during a summit conference in November 2014.

There’s also new material related to how Japan is meeting the tourist influx and preparing for the 2020 Olympic Games, such as on page 793 in the section on 都市問題 (toshi mondai, urban problems), which carries 15 外国人向けの新しい地図記号 (Gaikokujin muke no atarashii chizu kigō, new map symbols for foreign people).

Perhaps not surprisingly the book contains no fewer than six separate entries for フェイクニュース (feiku nyūsu, fake news), which first appears underアメリカの政治 (Amerika no seiji, American politics), where it’s explained thusly: 一般的には虚偽の情報で作られたニュースのことであるが、2016〜17年のアメリカでは、ドナルド・トランプ大統領が選挙のころからこの言葉を多用したことで、 広く浸透した (Ippanteki ni wa kyogi no jōhō de tsukurareta nyūsu no koto de aru ga, 2016-17 nen no Amerika de wa, Donarudo Torampu daitōryo ga senkyo no koro kara kono kotoba o tayō shita koto de, hiroku shintō shita, “Generally means news made from false information, but in the U.S. during 2016-17, the term was often used by President Donald Trump from around the time of the election, and which has spread widely”).

The 10 pages devoted to 若者 (wakamono, youth) are not to be missed. The section is broken down into terms about adults; abbreviated forms of words; words whose meaning or usage have evolved; intentionally vague usage left to the listener’s understanding; exaggerations and critical expressions; social networking and photography; fashion; love and sex; food; play and companions; and school, university and job hunting.

One amusing term in the section that caught my eye was 虫歯ポーズ (mushiba pōzu, tooth cavity pose), an expression with palms held against both sides of the face, as if in pain from a toothache. (Think of Edvard Munch’s painting “The Scream.”) Another is 飯テロ (meshi-tero, or food terrorism). It means posting photos of delicious, high-calorie foods late at night when the recipient is likely to be hungry. A synonym is フードポルノ (fūdo poruno, food porn).

Other imaginative additions to the language include リムる (rimuru, remove, in this case to stop following someone’s tweets); ツイ飲み (tsuinomi, to tweet while imbibing alcohol). 置き去り (okizari) means to leave behind, but in its new meaning, it’s a kind of harassment in which all participants exit a chat room, leaving a single chatter to himself.

While セフレ (sefure, a “sex friend”) is already old, a new word カモフレ (kamofure), has popped up to refer to a couple who feign the appearance of lovers, hence, “camouflaged friends.”

Is this mishmash of Japanized English the wave of the future? Many terms are unlikely to survive more than a few years, at best. An editor at the publisher admitted to me that youth slang changes so fast, some may already be defunct by the time they appear in the yearbook.