Japanese Language Blog

The Dictionary as a Mirror of Time Posted by on Oct 16, 2021 in Culture, Slang, Vocabulary

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One of the largest Japanese dictionaries (辞書 jisho) is published from Sanseido. It is the most popular one.  It was first published in 1960, and it has been edited periodically to add or delete words.  The dictionary was updated this year after 8 years.

Language is alive and it is changing all the time whether you like it or not.  Dictionaries must reflect these changes.  So publishers must look at their dictionaries periodically. Sankyu Tatsuo, a Japanese linguist and a comedian, writes “Language changes reflecting time. So correct Japanese does not exist.  This notion is shared by linguists (言語学者 gengogakusha) for Japanese, and Japanese linguists.”


Photo by pariwat pannium on Unsplash

Each publisher (出版社shuppansha)chooses which words to include and eliminate based on their philosophy, and that has resulted in the uniqueness of each dictionary.  Some publishers value prescriptivism (規範主義 kihan shugi), while others may value descriptivism (記述主義  kijyutsu shugi). That may be one of the reasons why the Sanseido dictionary is most popular among all dictionaries.

According to Asahi Shinbun, the Sanseido dictionary values descriptivism, and it did add 3500 words in the 8th edition to be published in 12/2021.  So let’s look at some words that have been chosen for entry.

Added New Words

New Japanese WordsYomiganaMeaning
アラフィフarafifuaround 50 years oldabout 50 years old
ウェビナー webinar
ソーシャルディスタンスsocial distance
エッセンシャルワーカーessential worker
ラスボスrasubosulast bossthe strongest enemy in the last stage of computer games: a person who has the feel of the last boss
受け子ukekoa person who is in charge of receiving money from a victim in frauds
いいねiineLIKELike as in social media, such as Facebook or Twitter
陰キャ inkyaa person who is gloomy in character
マリトッツォMaritozzoan Italian sweet
ゾーンに入るzo-n ni hairuget into the zone
きゅんきゅんするkyun kyun surumy heart skips a beat
黙食 するmokushoku suru
eat in silence to prevent COVID-19 from spreading

Added New Meaning

JapaneseYomiganaOriginal meaning in EnglishNew meaning
shiosaltas in 塩対応 (shio taio), meaning unfriendly cold response
巣ごもりsugomorinestingas in 巣ごもり消費 (sugomori shohi)、meaning stay-at-home consumption
リモートrimo-toremoteas in リモート飲み会(rimo-to nomikai), a drinking party on Zoom
忖度するsontaku suru
be considerate to the other party's feeling (positive)Assume one's senior's judgement, and act based on the assumption blindly to be liked (negative)

On the other hand, 1700 words have been deleted.

Japanese wordYomiganaEnglish meaningDescription
携帯メールkeitai me-rucell phone mailalso called carrier mail. Email specially provided by cell phone carriers.
コギャルkogyarua popular word in the 1990s, referring to middle and high school girls with dyed hair and mini-skirts.
スッチーsucchienickname for "stewardess"female flight attendant
着メロchaku meroringtone
パソコン通信 pasokon tsushinPersonal computer communicationa closed network, while the Internet is an open network.
ミニディスクmini discMiniDisc (MD)a magneto-optical disc-based data storage developed by Sony in 1991.

As you might have figured out, most new words are related to computers and COVID-19, while deleted words related to old technologies and trendy words such as コギャル. Some trendy words were used so much that they became stale and uncool, resulting in becoming obsolete (廃れた sutareta). スッチー means a stewardess, which only refers to a female cabin attendant.  The word stewardess was replaced by a flight attendant socially, and the word スッチーdisappeared.

Not many people may use actual dictionaries and many opt to use the internet to look up words. But if you have time, it is really fun to read an actual dictionary, aimlessly going word after word.  Highly recommended!


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