Wednesday, July 23, 2008

My Contributions to the Japanese Language

Foreigners living in Japan make invaluable cultural contributions all the time. From Hungarian sumo wrestlers to ceaseless TV appearances by Marty Friedman to David Aldwinckle's belabored efforts to popularize frivolous litigation, creative gaijin bring welcome variety to what has historically been a very uniform nation. As a relatively long-term resident, therefore, it's natural for me to examine my own cultural footprint and determine whether it's worth the price of the shoe that left it.

One of the most fascinating ways in which foreign residents of any country can affect their host is through the host's language. About three years ago I met an American teacher in Tokyo who had taken to prefixing Japanese adjectives with ero- (a Japanese-English loan word meaning "erotic" or "eroticism"). This teacher used ero- to amplify the subsequent adjective, the same way native Japanese speakers use chô- (super) or metcha- (seriously). So really good food is not just oishii (delicious), but ero-oishii (sexy-delicious).

Over the years, I've coined a few of my own Japanese words, all of which are a source of pride (not to mention newfound linguistic convenience) for me. Here are some examples:

クソい (kusoi) - This is an i-stem adjective built on the noun kuso, which is slang for excrement. Just as English has taken "shit" and morphed it into an adjective as "shitty," I felt Japanese should afford speakers the same privilege with its expletives. Usage would go something like this:

朝の気分は良かったけど、今はなんかクソい
Asa no kibun wa yokatta kedo, ima wa nanka kusoi.
(I felt good this morning, but now I feel kinda shitty.)

邪魔邪魔しい (jamajamashii) - As you can see from the cumbersome kanji characters required to write it, "jamajamashii" is a word better suited to spoken Japanese than written Japanese. This shii-stem adjective is built out of a doubling of the noun jama, which means "obstruction" or "something in the way." It's similar to the (real) word bakabakashii ("foolish") which is similarly built, doubling the noun baka ("idiot") and adding an adjective suffix. I have to admit, this word was not born out of necessity so much as my own personal amusement. It's usually sufficient to say that something is jama and leave it at that, but I found myself muttering the made-up word jamajamashii when pushing through a crowd of slow-moving shoppers one Sunday in Kichijôji.

クレージく (kurêjiku) - Unfortunately, 99 percent of all loan words from English are treated like nouns in Japanese, regardless of their original part of speech. For example, the English adjective "crazy" is appropriated by Japanese as kurêjî, but its adverb form becomes the unwieldy kurêjî ni. Well, no more. Since kurêjî has the i ending characteristic of so many Japanese adjectives, I'm going to treat it like a Japanese adjective. As such, changing the last i to the syllable ku should make it an adverb, "crazily." By the way, if you found this paragraph interesting, you must be kurêjî.

ティッ者 (tissha) - This is a contraction of the loan word tisshu (tissue) and sha, which means "one who..." or "...person." Together, they describe a person handing out little packages of tissues stuffed with ad fliers; the "Tissue Person." Tissue distribution is a preferred method of advertising for a wide range of Japanese businesses, including loan brokers, English conversation schools, adult video shops, host(-ess) clubs and cell phone service providers. Usually the tissue distributor is described as tisshukubari-san, but I find tissha far more convenient.

モーニング息子 (morning musuko) - You may have heard of Morning Musume, the Japanese pop group composed of an annually-updated gaggle of giggly junior high school girls. The musume in their name means "daughter" or "little girl." Remove musume and substitute musuko (which means "son," but is also slang for "penis"), and you've got a handy Japanese word for nocturnal penile tumescence. Fiancee told me that she'd never heard this word used before (hence my willingness to take credit for coining it), but that she immediately understood its meaning.

2 comments:

butt? said...

I`ve gotta say that ティッ者 is a very useful word that I will be sure to incorporate into my lexicon, but I`m still more of a fan 朝立ち(あさだち) for "Nocturnal penile tumescence".

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