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新語・流行語 Top Japanese Words of 2011

Written By: seo on December 6, 2011 3 Comments

Long time, no see, FiTizens!

We’ve hit December and with that comes the start of the usual reflections upon the year that has just been. On the language side of things, this usually means lists of words that somehow manage to encapsulate or convey the events and general feeling of the year. The past week here in Japan saw the U-can Inc. panel name the Top 10 buzzwords of 2011. (Japanese article here, English article here.)

“Nadeshiko Japan” なでしこジャパン, the World Cup champion soccer team, tops the list. After a spring of terrible events and a summer that had the ever-present reminders of radiation contamination and setsuden (power-saving), the Nadeshiko win provided a huge boost in spirits. The rest of the words are unranked and are as follows:

帰宅難民 (kitakunanmin)
絆 (kizuna)
こだまでしょうか (kodama deshouka)
3.11
スマホ (sumaho)
どじょう内閣 (dojo naikaku)
どや顔 (doyagao)
風評被害 (fuhyohigai)
ラブ注入 (rabu-chu-nyu)

Perhaps unsurprisingly, almost half of the list is comprised of words relating to the March 11th earthquake and tsunami. I was somewhat surprised to see the word, or a variation of it, I’d glommed onto in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake — kitakunanmin. Kizuna (human connection/bond/sympathy), kodama deshouka (“is that an echo?”), 3.11, and fuhyohigai (damaged reputation from rumors) round out the earthquake/tsunami related words. Since I arrived in Japan in late June, I can really only say I have a familiarity with fuhyohigai since fears of radiation contaminated produce from the northeast were pervasive and then given weight by the discovery of contaminated beef (followed by a host of others).

Rabu-chu-nyu (love injection) and doyagao (apparently this is a phrase that denotes someone putting on airs/appearing self-satisfied) are two words related to comedy that I confess I’ve no familiarity with — and that’s not likely to change given the fact my TV has been turned on a grand total of three times. Sumaho however, is an easy one — it’s a shortening of “sumato fon” (smartphone). Finally, dojo-naikaku is a term that refers to the recent Prime Minister Noda’s cabinet. Dojo is a type of fish (loach) that is considered common, humble, and kind of ugly.

So what words/phrases/neologisms capture your year? If I were on the panel, I probably would have lobbied for setsuden (power-saving — which meant that if the air conditioning was on in a public place, it wasn’t set to anything lower than 28°C, the lights were kept dim, and most of the escalators weren’t running), its partner “super-cool biz” (a campaign to get workers to dress more summer-y so businesses and companies could save on energy consumption), and ganbarou nihon — the omnipresent phrase plastered in widows, on ads, even on the sides of trains, encouraging Japan to stay strong and keep on going.

What are your year’s words?

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3 Responses to “新語・流行語 Top Japanese Words of 2011”

  1. Youki on: 7 December 2011 at 3:15 am

    This reminds me, I think I should keep a word journal to keep track of new/interesting words.

    My words for the year:

    1. Activation – from a project I worked on at the Lawrence Hall of Science, which looked at how kids are “activated” into science learning.

    2. Science discourse – this year I got to explore how kids learn science in their families and communities, so it was a great way to explore discourse apart from the classroom.

    3. Shinigami – I’ve been watching anime to learn more Japanese, and the only words that stick are the ones that I’d never use. “Shinigami” is a god of death, similar to the Grim Reaper.

    4. Toponymy – from my post on Bay Area names with Spanish origins. It was so fascinating to learn how the names of California’s locations reflect its history.

    5. Tesseract – a four-dimensional cube. It was on my list a few years ago, but since it exists in 4 dimensions it somehow exists simultaneously in all lists that I write.

  2. Nenad on: 12 December 2011 at 6:01 pm

    My words are pecha kucha (chit-chat). We had two presentations held in Serbia, just after tsunami and we were albe to see how proud and special Japanese people are.

  3. daveski on: 13 December 2011 at 7:37 pm

    Geoffrey Pullum of Language Log fame has a nice argument for “assholocracy“, and I can’t say that I have a better suggestion.

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