Voluminous, but manageable. That’s a fitting description of the latest acquisition to my library: the 2016 edition of 現代用語の 基礎知識 (Gendai Yōgo no Kiso Chishiki) from publisher Jiyukokuminsha. This 1,444-page compendium is brimming with cutting-edge terminology about practically everything people in Japan said, read and bought during the previous 12 months, making it well worth its price tag of ¥2,900 (plus tax).
While its Japanese title remains unchanged, I note that from this year, the English name has been changed to “The Year Book of the Contemporary Society.” Formerly it had been called “The Encyclopedia of Contemporary Words.”
On Dec. 1, publishers Jiyukokuminsha and U-Can held their annual event to proclaim winners of the 2015 ユーキャン 新語・流行語大賞 (2015 U-Can Shingo/Ryūkōgo Taishō, “New and Trendy Word Grand Prix”) — words selected from 50 nominees that ranged from such topics as government economic policies and Kenji Goto — the journalist beheaded by “Jihadi John” — to three sports heroes and a comedian’s raunchy punch line.
One of the two grand prix winners was 爆買い (bakugai, literally, “explosive buying”), a reference to foreign (mostly Chinese) tourists who use their visits to Japan to go on frenetic shopping sprees, often for big-ticket items.
While baku appears in such words as 爆竹 (bakuchiku, “exploding bamboo,” i.e., firecrackers), it is also used as a humorous prefix to mean something done to excess, in such words as 爆笑 (bakushō, explosive laughter) and 爆睡 (bakusui, to sleep like a log).
Bakugai shared the top honors with トリプルスリー (toripuru surii, triple three). An example of 和製英語 (wasei eigo, Japanese English), it refers to two promising young baseball players, Tetsuto Yamada and Yuki Yanagita, who last season both achieved batting averages of over .300, hit over 30 home runs and stole over 30 bases — an indication of outstanding offensive play.
Also in the top 10 was Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s vision of 一億総活躍社会 (ichi-oku sō-katsuyaku shakai, “a society in which all 100 million people play an active role”). Ichi-oku (100 million) followed by 総 (sō, general) is a generic expression to mean the entire nation of Japan.
In its Dec. 3 issue, Asahi Geino magazine parodied the U-Can contest with its own listing of 50 ウラ流行語大賞 (Ura Ryūkōgo Taishō, “Grand Prix of 50 Underground Trendy Words”). Geino’s top prize went to a made-up verb, 佐野る (sanoru), meaning to copy another’s work — a reference to discredited designer Kenjiro Sano, whose emblem for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics had to be scrapped in September after an uproar over its uncanny similarity to the design of a poster promoting a theater in Liege, Belgium.
Turning back to U-Can’s top 10 words, another nominee was 五郎丸ポーズ (Gorōmaru pōzu, Goromaru pose), which refers to rugby star Ayumu Goromaru’s prayer-like hand gesture when preparing to take a place kick. Unlike Sano, though, Goromaru admits his work was inspired by another — specifically, English fly-half Jonny Wilkinson.
This writer’s favorite section of the yearbook would have to be the five pages of slang and jargon used by young people. In the latest edition, it’s hardly surprising that numerous examples relate to computers and smartphones. One would be ふぁぼ (fabo), or, in its verb form, ファボる (faboru), meaning to rate a tweet on Twitter as a favorite.
Then there’s 風呂リダ (furorida), which does not refer to the U.S. state, but rather, in reverse order, to 離脱 (ridatsu, disconnect) from the Line smartphone application while in the お風呂 (o-furo, bath).
If someone were to inquire, ワンチャンある？ (Wan-chan aru?), it may sound like you’re being asked if you have a dog, but in this case, it means “Do I still have ‘one chance’ (to do something)?”
Here are a few other examples that caught my eye:
• リッチモ (ricchimo, to eat breakfast at a hotel), a combination of “rich” and “morning.”
• ねんかく (nenkaku), short for 年齢確認 (nenrei kakunin, to confirm someone’s age), such as when a person attempts to purchase an alcoholic beverage at a pub or convenience store.
• JK, short for 女子高生 (joshi kōsei, a female high school student). Also in common use are JC for 女子中学生 (joshi chūgakusei, female junior high school student) and JD for 女子大学生 (joshi daigakusei, a female university student).
• オサレ (osare, a slob), the opposite of おしゃれ (oshare, a fashionable or well-dressed person).
• タピる (tapiru, to drink — or go to drink — a beverage containing tapioca).
A cautionary note here: By the time many juvenile slang words make it into print, they may already be out of fashion.
One term that has remained in vogue is ラリッタ (raritta, stoned), which first appeared in the 1960s to describe a person high on drugs. Someone in such a state was believed to have difficulty rapidly enunciating the syllables ra-ri-ru-re-ro. Since the infinitive form of most Japanese verbs ends in る (ru), the first three hiragana, らりる (rariru), would make the word resemble a verb, the past perfect of which would naturally be raritta.
Not everyone was in agreement with this year’s choices for the top buzzwords. Approached by TBS television, American media personality Dave Spector quipped, “流行語大賞そのものが 流行ってない” (Ryūkōgo Taishō sono mono ga hayattenai, “The buzzword grand prix itself isn’t that popular”). In a single sentence, Spector uses the same characters both as a noun (流行語, ryūkōgo, buzzword) and a verb (流行る, hayaru, to be popular).