Kanji Clinic #78, The Japan Times, February 21, 2006
"New kanji compounds tap into zeitgeist, give insight"


Demonstrating the remarkable malleability of kanji, many new kanji compound words made their debut in the media in the last 12 months. These linguistic concoctions hold up an interesting mirror to the latest trends in Japanese society.

Take 艶 (ade) meaning “fascinating” and comprised of the components 豊 (yutaka, abundant) and 色 (iro, color). It popped up last year in a new compound word coined by women’s magazine Nikita: 艶女 (adeejo, fascinating woman). According to Nikita, 艶女 is a mature woman who retains her physical attractiveness by putting her experience and financial power to good use even though youth is escaping her. 駄目女 (dameejo, no good woman), on the other hand, is a woman who has stopped caring about her looks.

干物女 (himono onna, “dried fish women”) is the creation of popular comic book writer Hiura Satoru. Although still in their 20s, 干物女 have zero interest in pursuing romance. They happily spend all their free time sleeping, and feel no inclination whatsoever to join in the national ganbare (“Do your best!”) spirit.

New kanji words have recently appeared to describe men, too. The male counterpart of Nikita's 艶女 is 艶男 (adeosu, fascinating man). Strictly speaking, 男 (otoko) cannot be read “osu” (the kanji with that pronunciation is 雄, meaning “male”), but adeosu (ah-day-oh-sue) has an appealing, playful ring to it.

Men’s magazine Circus encouraged “busai” (“less than average-looking”) readers to reinvent themselves as ブサイケ男(busaike otoko, a homely sexy man) by using their likeable personality, material wealth, or other selling points to win the hearts of attractive women. This is a play on the popular word イケメン(ikemen), used to describe a handsome-looking man (イケてる, iketeru, means “sexy” and メン, men, means “face”).

Approximately one in four Japanese brides today is pregnant at the time she ties the knot. Wedding service providers have dreamed up an array of euphemisms to more discreetly describe what is often termed できちゃった結婚 (dekichatta kekkon, gone-and-done-it marriage). Last year saw the emergence of newcomers ダブルハッピー婚 (daburu happiikon, double happy marriage) and 授かり婚 (sazukarikon, blessed marriage, since babies can be referred to as sazukarimono, or “blessings,” in Japanese).

ニート(or NEET), an acronym for “Not in Education, Employment, or Training,” is a widely used term that refers to the increasing number of young people who are not in school or working full-time, and who have no fixed plans for the future. Last year saw a new sardonic play on ニート, in 社内ニート (shanai Niito, company-inside-NEET). This refers to someone who overcomes the hiring hurdles but then turns out to be a slacker.

Corporate employees were featured in a canned coffee advert last year eating breakfast at their office desks, spawning the new phrase 席朝族 (sekichouzoku, seat breakfast tribe). Those who prefer to stop somewhere and eat breakfast on their way to work are now referred to as 外朝族 (gaichouzoku, outside breakfast tribe).

You might expect the kanji compound word representing the popular logic-based number puzzle Sudoku (数独, number-single) to be currently hot in Japan, but here Sudoku books have ナンバープレース (nanbaapureesu) on their covers. As it turns out, Japanese publishers now opt for the original American name, “Number Place,” instead of 数独, the moniker bestowed on the puzzle in 1984 in Japan, where Sudoku first became popular.


Before he was arrested on suspicion of securities law violations last month, former Livedoor CEO Takafumi Horie came up with a pair of attention-grabbing kanji compounds. Following Livedoor’s surprise purchase of a controlling stake in Nippon Broadcasting Systems, Horie said the subsequent countermeasures Fuji Television took to block the takeover were within the bounds of what he had presumed their response would be. Normally, the longish expression 想定の範囲内 (soutei no haninai, “within the range of presumption”) would be used, but Horie niftily abbreviated it to 想定内 (souteinai, presumption-inside). He also began peppering his utterances with the combo’s antonym, 想定外 (souteigai, presumption-outside).

Whether or not Horie will coin some new compounds from his most recent experiences remains to be seen.

View 10 more brand-new kanji compounds here.

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