Column #91 Kanji Clinic, The Japan Times, June 17, 2008
"King Kojien dictionary knights new kanji words"


The four writing systems utilized in Japanese (kanji, katakana, hiragana and the Roman alphabet) provide Japanese advertising copywriters, journalists, and young people with an abundance of raw material from which to create new words. The great majority of these neologisms fade away after having served an ephemeral usefulness, but a select few earn a permanent place in the Japanese vernacular through inclusion in the authoritative Japanese dictionary Kojien (広辞苑, Iwanami Shoten Publishing).


The latest update of Kojien, the first in a decade, was published in January of this year. New entries were limited to a mere 10,000, winnowed down from an initial candidate pool of 100,000. Even relatively established favorites 萌え(moe, infatuation) and できちゃった結婚 (dekichatta kekkon, pregnant-marriage, “shotgun wedding”) didn’t make the cut.

Predictably, 40 percent of the inductees are English loanwords written in katakana. The meanings of some, such as リベンジ (ribenji, revenge) and カミングアウト (kaminguauto, coming out), are probably obvious to English speakers, while others, like マイブーム (maibuumu, “my boom,” i.e., “one’s current obsession”), are head-scratchers.

In 2004, the Institute for Japanese Language tried to roll back the tsunami of katakana loanwords invading Nihongo by coining substitute kanji compound words for those judged least comprehensible to the average Japanese. But some of their targets, including ドメスティックバイオレンス (domesutikkubaiorensu, domestic violence) and セカンドオピニオン (sekandoopinion, second opinion), nonetheless rolled right into this year's edition of Kojien.

Many of the new entries are related to advances in information technology, and most of those are katakana English loanwords or acronyms, such as ブログ (burogu, blog), ワンセグ(wansegu, “1SEG,” terrestrial digital broadcasting service for mobile devices), サイバーモール(saibaamooru, cybermall), ICタッグ (IC tag), MP3, and ADSL.

Some newbies are katakana-kanji combos: メタボリック症候群 (metaborikku shoukougun, metabolic syndrome) is often abbreviated to メタボ to mean “obese,” and 着メロ (chakumero, phone ringtone) is comprised of 着 (“arrive,” the first kanji in 着信, chakushin, “incoming call”) plus メロ (short for “melody”).

New kanji compounds in Kojien from the medical field include gender-neutral 看護師 (kangoshi, nursing-professional, “nurse”), which will likely overtake use of 看護婦 (kangofu, female nurse) and 看護士 (kangoshi, male nurse), and 脳死移植 (noushiishoku, brain-dead-transfer-plant, “organ transplant from a brain-dead donor”). 性同一性障害(seidouitsuseishougai, gender-identity-gender-disorder, “gender identity disorder”) is a new entry, as is 認知症 (ninchishou, recognize-know-symptoms, “senility”), a welcome synonym for the pejorative term 痴呆 (chiho, fool-amazed).

From the world of business come 敵対的企業買収 (tekitaitekikigyoubaishuu, oppositional-enterprise-buy up, “hostile takeover”) and 風評被害 (fuuhyouhigai, rumor-damage, “financial damage caused by rumors”). 内部告発 (naibukokuhatsu, inside-division-accusation, “whistleblowing”) is increasingly occurring not only in Japanese businesses but in academic and governmental organizations as well.

In the face of global warming, 猛暑日 (moushobi, fierce-hot-day), a new entry, refers to a summer day when the thermometer tops 35℃. Kojien surprisingly failed to induct クールビズ (kuurubizu, “Cool Biz”), the summer energy-saving campaign in which business and government employees wear light clothing sans ties and jackets in order to keep from having to turn down the thermostat at work.

Inclusion of 患畜 (kanchiku, patient-domestic animal, “pet patient”) reflects increased willingness on the part of the Japanese to fork over big bucks to vets as they elect to have fewer children. Sadly, persistent social problems 引籠り(hikikomori, withdraw-coop, “shut-ins withdrawn from society”) and 援助交際(enjokousai, financial support-association, “schoolgirls ‘dating’ older men for money”) are also new additions to Kojien.

Kojien’s basic policy of not eliminating any words from past editions reflects the confidence it has in its vetting process. These 10,000 Nihongo newcomers are here to stay. If you aren’t the old-fashioned paper dictionary type, check them out in your electronic dictionary or on your cell phone, where Kojien is a standard feature.

A quiz to test your knowledge of many new Kojien entries is here.
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Column #1, "Don't despair--you can put an end to kanji chaos")

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