June 5, 2008 / 9:52 AM / 11 years ago

Clearing the air: guides decipher Japan's teen talk

TOKYO (Reuters Life!) - Teenagers are notoriously difficult to understand, but the lives of Japanese parents are about to get easier thanks to recently published dictionaries dedicated to deciphering their slang.

Girls in costumes pose in Tokyo's Harajuku district January 28, 2007. Girls dressed in creative fashion inspired by punk, gothic and animation character often gather in the shopping district on Sunday. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

Dubbed “KY”, the teen lingo is created by spelling out Japanese phrases using the English alphabet and then abbreviating these words to form acronyms, much like “TGIF”, which stands for “thank god it’s Friday” or “OMG” (Oh my god!)

“KY” stands for “Kuuki Yomenai” — literally translated as “can’t read the air”, which means “not in tune”.

While some linguists have lamented that this was a sign that the Japanese language was collapsing, the editor of the “KY-type Japanese” guide saw it differently.

“First when I was making the book, I thought I’m going to lose my dignity,” Yasuo Kitahara, a Japanese linguistics scholar and former president of the University of Tsukuba, told Reuters.

“But the fact is that the youths are using these words already, so I thought I want people to know what it’s about and have their own opinions on them.”

“HR” (“Hitori Ranchi” which means lunching alone), “PK” (“Pantsu Kuikomu” or I have a wedgie) and “JK” (“Joshi Kosei” or female high school students) are some of the commonly used phrases among the 450 words listed in Kitahara’s book.

He said the vernacular emerged from youths who are used to typing Japanese words using English keyboards, and spread through Internet blogs and mobile phone messaging.


“I use it because I can’t be bothered to say the entire word. It’s too long,” said Kana Harano a 15-year-old “JK”.

The phrase “KY” made a leap into mainstream media last year, when the cabinet formed by previous Prime Minister Shinzo Abe after an election loss was dubbed as the “KY cabinet” — not in tune with voters.

Since then, the word has made many appearances on television, newspapers, and advertisements. Kitahara’s book is one of two “KY” guides published this year.

Like most teens, schoolgirl Harano said “KY” enables her to talk in public about issues she doesn’t want other people to understand, and also because it makes things sound like a joke, a useful tool in potentially embarrassing situations.

The slang is like a “double-edged blade” that could be used to both protect and hurt others, Kitahara explained.

Phrases such as “CZ” — “Chakku Zenkai” which means your fly is unzipped, and “KW” — “Kimochi Warui” or gross, are examples, he said.

Many teens find the analysis and attention being lavished on their language somewhat amusing.

“Even my mom uses the phrase ‘KY’ now,” said Yuka Yamaguchi, a 17-year-old high school student.

“It’s like, wow. The adults are trying real hard.”

Editing by Miral Fahmy

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