I’m a huge fan of 今年の漢字 (kotoshi no kanji, kanji of the year), which is announced every December at Kiyomizu Temple in Kyoto. Last year’s kanji was 令 (rei, order; splendid) a nod to the new 令和時代 (Reiwa Jidai, Reiwa Era).
We’re just past the halfway mark for 2020 and while I can’t think of what kanji will be selected to represent this year, I’d be willing to bet that the word of the year will be コロナ (korona), short for 新型コロナウイルス (shingata koronauirusu, novel coronavirus). Maybe the kanji will be 病 (yamai; byō, disease) or 禍 (wazawai; ka, calamity), which has been getting attached to コロナ to speak about the コロナ禍 (korona-ka, coronavirus crisis).
Another candidate is 新 (shin, new), which is seen in 新型 (shingata, new strain) and 新たな日常 (aratana nichijō, new normal). Publishing company Shogakukan’s focus is on 新 as well, but in its case it is looking for 新語 (shingo, new words) as part of its monthly 大辞泉が選ぶ新語大賞 (Daijisen ga erabu shingo taishō, the awards for new words selected by Daijisen), Daijisen being a general-purpose dictionary that Shogakukan publishes.
Around five to 10 新語 are chosen each month and they are words that are understood by the populace but aren’t yet recognized by the dictionary itself. It’ll come as no surprise that in May a lot of them had to do with 新型コロナウイルス: 後手後手 (gote gote, too little too late), 東京アラート (Tōkyō arāto, Tokyo Alert), エッセンシャルワーカー (essensharu wākā, essential worker), フェイスシールド (feisu shīrudo, face shield) and, a surprise, 人狼 (jinrō, werewolf).
The first 新語 on that list, 後手後手, is being increasingly used to refer to slow governmental responses to the コロナ禍. According to a survey by the Yomiuri Shimbun, more than 80 percent of respondents answered that the state of emergency should have been issued sooner. The 後手後手のコロナ対策 (gote gote no korona taisaku, coronavirus measures that came too late) spurred the creation of the 東京アラート, which was put into effect on June 2 around a week after the 緊急事態 (kinkyū jitai, state of emergency) was lifted. エッセンシャルワーカー are those who can’t work from home and need to continue their jobs and, with it being hard to find face masks, sometimes those workers will need to wear フェイスシールド that look more like plastic visors.
So how does 人狼 fit into this? It may have come due to the uptick in オンライン飲み会 (onrain nomikai, online drinking parties), in which participants have been playing a game called Werewolf that sees a team of 市民 (shimin, citizens) trying to deduce who the among 人狼 them is. It’s not the first time the game has been in the news, but with more time on our hands it seems we’re looking to old pastimes to, well, pass the time.
With all that drinking, though, I was kind of expecting コロナ太り (korona-butori, weight gain due to coronavirus) or 自粛太り (jishuku-butori, weight gain due to staying home) as an entry, but maybe that’s just me?
The list of 新語 for June saw a bit more variety. コロナ禍 finally made the list and, keeping with the pandemic theme, so did ウィズコロナ (uizu korona, with corona), 転売ヤー (tenbaiyā, a person who buys up and resells in-demand items — like face masks), 夜の街 (yoru no machi, night town) and 昼カラ (hiru kara, karaoke at lunchtime).
As hopes for a vaccine seem far off, people are having to come to terms with the idea that they ウィズコロナ時代を生きていく (uizu korona jidai o ikite-iku, now live in a period with coronavirus)
For now, that means identifying clusters that have recently popped up at 昼カラ gatherings and small establishments in the 夜の街 — dive bars and host clubs, for example.
The Daijisen list wasn’t all コロナ words, however. The dictionary picked up on increased use of アンティファ (antifa, antifa), which is short for antifascist in English, and スルースキル (surū sukiru), which is the skill of ignoring things like social media haters and internet trolls. This is the same スルー in the term 既読スルー (kidoku surū, to ignore a text after seeing it).
With the world changing by the day it makes sense that languages change with it. If you want to put in a vote for 新語, then tweet the word with the hashtag #大辞泉新語, or apply via the Shogakukan campaign site.