Changing usages in Japanese

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[This is a guest post by Nathan Hopson]

NHK reported yesterday on the recently released results of the Agency for Cultural Affairs' annual survey of the changing uses of Japanese. This year, the survey of 3500 men and women 16 and up received responses from 54%. The most interesting results reflected the impact of online and SMS language use by young people.

One of the interesting findings pointed to the rise of emoticons. About 56% of young people reported using pictorial emoticons, while only 40% said they use kanji for the same purpose (usually at the end of a sentence or phrase as a kind of qualifying punctuation mark). This seems a significant change from even a few years ago.

So instead of:

(笑) (kakko warai), users prefer 😀, 😁, etc.

and instead of

(汗) (kakko ase) they prefer 😅, 😓, 😨, etc.

The most interesting result for me is related to another kind of digital shorthand that appears to be on the rise. For years now, I have been bemused by the use of うp in Japanese message boards and the like as a shorthand for "upload." I assume this word, if it were ever to be read aloud, would be pronounced like アップ (appu) in アップロード (appurōdo) — though the NHK newsreader chose something like "oop." This abbreviation is undoubtedly a product of the desire for speed and convenience, because it requires no conversion. Just type "u, p" as you would in English, and move on. This may have begun as a typo of sorts, but it quickly caught on and is quite common among Japanese netizens.

The Agency survey reveals a similar phenomenon with "OK." I was unaware, perhaps because it's limited to SMS and other messaging contexts rather than in wide use on message boards and other internet sites, that half of teens (16-19 for the purposes of the survey) and more than one in three twentysomethings use おけ (oke) in place of OK, or オッケー (okkē). Both OK and オッケー, especially on a mobile device, require more work. As one young woman interviewed by NHK put it, "The conversion is a pain." Another young man replied, "I use it sometimes. I guess it's just easy to say [sic]." The data supports these anecdotes; as reported by NHK, the top reason given for using both うp and おけ (or, amazingly おけおけ) was "to save trouble." At 59.5%, this response dwarfed even number two ("to show intimacy," 23.2%) and number three ("to easily communicate feelings easily," 15.8%).

I guess that the moral of the story is that うp is おけ in 2016. 😨? or 😁?


  1. lateposter mcslow said,

    September 22, 2016 @ 9:44 pm

    The days of Mona mowing a lawn of wwwwwwwwws are over, huh…

  2. Tim Martin said,

    September 23, 2016 @ 12:20 am

    Instead of (笑), my Japanese friends would sometimes just type "w" (which stands for "warai," or laughter). Seems easy enough to me, but I guess some people still prefer emojis.

  3. V said,

    September 23, 2016 @ 7:36 am

    Re: the pronunciation of うp, this page ( claims that it is actually most commonly read うぷ (upu), although あぷ (apu) and あっぷ (appu) are also attested.

    I guess it makes sense that Japanese readers would want to pronounce something written with う with the vowel /u/, as the orthography is normally so transparent. Furthermore, maybe the expression is now old enough that people perceive it as its own thing rather than a derivative of English "up" (アップ).

  4. leoboiko said,

    September 23, 2016 @ 12:00 pm

    An early example of this is (藁) "straw" for (笑) "laugh".

    Laugh is warai, morphologically wara-i. In standard orthography, the root is written in kanji and the suffixes in kana: 笑い. However, the parenthesized mood indicator is written as a bare character. The bare character looks like it would represent the root wara-; but the root is bound, so it doesn't usually appear standalone. Accordingly, if you try to type ‹wara› into a computer input method, it won't output the bound root 笑- wara-; it will look for the most frequent free word pronounced wara, which happens to be "straw" 藁.

    To type a 笑 character into an input method, you have to type the full 笑い warai, then delete the -い -i. 2channers figured this was too much trouble, so they just typed ‹wara› and playfully accepted the first result of kanji conversion as “good enough”.

  5. JS said,

    September 23, 2016 @ 10:31 pm

    笑 is a character that some Chinese are fond of pointing to as "iconic" or "ideographic" — i.e., "it looks like a smiling face." Is the idea with "(笑)", "(汗)" etc. that they operate both by conventional mapping to words and by iconic association with round faces smiling and sweating respectively?

    The (obscure) Chinese word/morpheme jiong3 冏/囧 means something like 'bright', but when the character itself began to be used by (HK?) netizens as an emoticon ("AWKward face"), there emerged a new word jiong3 冏 that meant just that. Which is… different.

  6. Jeff said,

    September 26, 2016 @ 12:09 am

    I see online gamers using おk quite a lot. Very similar to うp.

  7. E.T. said,

    September 27, 2016 @ 6:07 pm

    ワロタ wwwww

    Stating the obvious: おk makes sense on a computer where you're using romaji input, but on a phone おけ is faster.

    I note that the Japanese input in my iPhone still facilitates these proto-emoticons which used to be all the rage:


    It appears new ones have even been added in iOS 10 making advanced use of Unicode (I can't recall seeing these before):

    ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)

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