Storming the Dictionary: The Top New Japanese Words for 2017Society
As 2017 entered its later stages, two of Japan’s major dictionary publishers announced their lists of the top words of the year. On November 30, Shōgakukan—which produces the well-known Daijisen dictionary—picked insuta-bae for the top prize. It combines insuta from Instagram with the traditional word hae for setting something off to good effect. As one of the judges, Professor Tanaka Makirō of Meiji University, explained, this does not only mean that a scene is likely to look good on the photo-sharing service. It is also expected to spark interaction with followers.
As rival publisher Sanseidō chose sontaku as its top word on December 3, the two dictionary companies’ words of the year ended up duplicating the two winning choices of the prominent Jiyū Kokumin Sha contest. However, the Sanseidō judges fiercely debated what exactly the new meaning of sontaku—hardly in itself a new word—was. In 2017, the term was most closely associated with a land deal scandal in which some suggested that officials had “followed the unspoken wishes” of Prime Minister Abe Shinzō. The judges generally agreed that the word was connected with trying to surmise the wishes of others, but dissented on whether it meant acting on those wishes and whether the others were necessarily powerful.
It is not always easy to pin down the precise meaning of words that are just entering the language. The kanji 卍 (manji)—picked as a runner-up by Sanseidō—is an ancient religious symbol, but has recently become highly popular among Japanese teens with a new signification. It was apparently first used as an intensifier like maji (“really” or “totally”) and is often seen in the form maji manji. Later, manji span off into meanings like “really good,” “really bad,” and so many other variations that the Sanseidō judges gave up on the task of coming up with a definition. One questioned whether the people using it even knew what it meant.
Shōgakukan’s Top New Words of the Year for 2017
Insuta-bae [Winner]. Photos and videos that look great posted on Instagram can be described as insuta-bae. The word may also be applied to anything from landscapes to lunch with “Instagrammable” potential.
Insuta-bae no suru suītsu.
— Bunshun-hō. Weekly magazine Shūkan Bunshun is known for its uncovering of celebrity scandals. In 2017, it turned its “Bunshun cannons” on actor Watanabe Ken—exposing his extramarital affair with a former hostess—and the talent agency that allegedly keeps model and TV star Rola in a slave-like contract.都民ファーストの会
— Tomin fāsuto no kai. Tokyo Governor Koike Yuriko’s newly established “Tokyoites First” party made great political gains in the capital’s metropolitan assembly election.横入り
— Yokohairi. A newly prominent word for “jumping line.”シンデレラフィット
— Shinderera fitto. When clothes or shoes are the perfect size, they are a “Cinderella fit,” as with the fairy-tale slipper. The phrase can also be used when storing items in containers.希望の党
— Kibō no tō. The “Party of Hope” was founded by Tokyo Governor Koike to take part in politics on the national stage, but she resigned her position as leader after it fared badly in October’s House of Representatives election.ガチ勢
— Gachizei. Originally used in the world of gaming for “diehards” or extreme devotees, the word can now be used for anyone who takes a job or hobby very seriously.パラダイス文書
— Paradaisu bunsho. The leaked documents relating to offshore investments known as the “Paradise Papers” included data connected with over 1,000 Japanese individuals and companies.
Sanseidō’s Top 10 New Words of the Year for 2017
- 忖度 — Sontaku [Winner]. The three judges offered separate and slightly varying definitions, but a rough average provides “acting on unspoken wishes of others.”
会長の意向を忖度した報告書 Kaichō no ikō o sontaku shita hōkokusho. A report compiled with the company chairman’s views in mind.
- インフルエンサー — Infuruensā. The word for “influencers” who shape public opinion, particularly on social media, got extra visibility in 2017 as the title of a song by idol group Nogizaka 46.
- パワーワード — Pawā wādo. Japanese Internet content creators’ search for the best “power words” to catch readers’ eyes put the spotlight on this term.
- 〇〇ロス — ___ rosu. People have been using this suffix to express their sense of “loss” for some years now, whether it come when a favorite TV show ends or an eligible celebrity bachelor ties the knot. In 2017, singer Amuro Namie’s announced retirement led to Amurosu among fans.
- フェイクニュース — Feiku nyūsu. Debate raged over “fake news” around the world, and the issue is also a growing concern in Japan.
- 草 — Kusa. The Japanese for “lol” evolved from what was originally a single “w,” representing warau or “laugh.” This branched out in multiple forms like “www” and “wwww.” As these resembled a flourishing lawn or meadow, the kanji for “grass” itself has come to indicate that the writer is laughing out loud.
- 仮想通貨 — Kasō tsūka. Bitcoin, the best known of the “virtual currencies,” is becoming more popular in Japan. In April, electronics chain Bic Camera started accepting bitcoin payments in its stores.
- オフショル — Ofushoru. As more Japanese women are wearing “off-the-shoulder” tops in everyday life, this abbreviation has entered common usage.
- イキる — Ikiru. This verb for “giving oneself airs” originally came from Kansai, but has now broken through nationwide. It is typically written with a mix of katakana and hiragana.
- きゅんきゅん — Kyun kyun. A phrase for when people are “so excited they can’t breathe.” A variation on the common term kyun to, used when describing a tight pain in the chest.
卍 — Manji. Seen particularly in the Twitter posts of junior high school and high school girls, this intensifier was originally an altered form of maji (really). Its usage has since become so varied that the Sanseidō judges considered it impossible to define, therefore disqualifying it from the top 10.
プレミアムフライデー — Puremiamu furaidē. The government launched the “Premium Friday” campaign in February, encouraging companies to let employees out of work early on the last Friday of each month to boost spending. Its mixed success has led some to use the term with a touch of irony.
熱盛 — Atsumori. A popular phrase on TV Asahi’s Hōdō Station program for describing the “passionate fervor” of a baseball crowd.(Originally published in Japanese on December 5, 2017. Banner photo: The word sontaku is announced as the Sanseidō Word of the Year in Tokyo on December 3, 2017. Courtesy of Sanseidō.)