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Dictionary Dreams and Debuts: The Top New Japanese Words for 2018

A roundup of the latest Japanese words and phrases that made a splash in 2018, as chosen by dictionary publishers.

Must Make More Plans!

Ever feel like you don’t have enough penciled in on your calendar? On December 3, dictionary publisher Shōgakukan announced that its word of the year is kūhaku kyōfushō, or “a morbid fear of blank spaces” in one’s diary or planner. This phobia can lead people to note down imaginary future events just to reduce anxiety. Shōgakukan connected it with the desire for more social media friends as an expression of self-worth.

The first of its two runners up was sotsukon, or “to graduate from marriage,” defined by the publisher as a husband and wife remaining married while pursuing their own individual lives and not interfering with what the other is doing. The second was gohan ronpō, or “gohan logic,” playing on the double meaning of “meal” and “rice” that gohan has in Japanese. It refers to the way politicians sidestep unwelcome questions by interpreting them to their own benefit.

Beyond Instagram

Another of Japan’s big dictionary publishers, Sanseidō, announced its own word of the year on December 5. After last year’s popularity for the portmanteau insuta-bae­, meaning “to stand out on Instagram,” Sanseidō picked the second half in the verb form—baeru, or “to stand out”—as its top word for 2018. Originally a standalone verb pronounced haeru, the suffix form baeru has taken on its own life as a way of describing something that looks impressive or stylish, without requiring that it is actually posted on social media.

Two more variations on existing words followed in the ranking. In second place was the verb moyaru, a shortened form of moya moya suru, which describes “feeling vague resentment or displeasure toward another person.” In third place was wakarimi, a version of the verb wakaru, meaning to “understand” or “sympathize,” that is popular with young Japanese.

Net Slang Enters the Dictionary

Sanseidō gendai shin-kokugo jiten (Sanseidō New Contemporary Japanese Dictionary), sixth edition.

Specialists help decide what new words go into dictionaries, and editions for 2018 include many fresh entries.

The predominance of Internet slang in the sixth edition of the Sanseidō gendai shin-kokugo jiten (Sanseidō New Contemporary Japanese Dictionary), aimed at high school students, made headlines when the new version hit shelves in October 2018. Among the roughly 1,000 new words included in a total of 77,500 were kusa, the Japanese word for “grass” that evolved into an equivalent of “lol” and was one of the publisher’s words of 2017; numa (literally “marsh”), used to describe getting deeply stuck into, for example, a hobby; and giga, an abbreviation for “gigabyte” commonly used when talking about smartphone data. The editors, however, said that they were not intending to highlight the unusual, and that the words included have become part of everyday online usage.

Kōjien, seventh edition.

Also in 2018, Iwanami Shoten released the first new edition of its prestigious Kōjien dictionary in 10 years. The seventh edition includes 250,000 words, including such examples from tech as kuraudo or “cloud” and kasō tsūka or “cryptocurrency,” but found no room for guguru or “to google” (meaning to search the web, most frequently with the Google search engine that provides the verb form), despite its common usage. Many of its choices showed a similar tendency for conservatism, but a spokesperson was unrepentant. “It is not the role of Kōjien to lead from the front in including new words, but to feature such terms as we are certain have established themselves in the Japanese language.”

As it was the first update for the best-selling dictionary in a decade, there was much interest in any changes. The definition for the abbreviation LGBT, given as “people whose sexual orientation differs from the majority,” came under scrutiny upon making its first appearance in the dictionary. Some Internet users made the criticism that the “transgender” portion of the term is related to gender identity rather than sexual orientation. A correction was later posted on the Kōjien website.

  • [2018.12.27]
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