Amazing new Japanese words

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These come from the following article:

"Pay It Forward: The Top New Japanese Words for 2019" (12/13/19)

I'll list the words first, then explain which one is my favorite.

A prefatory note:  nearly half of the words on these lists are based wholly or partly on borrowings from English, though they are assimilated into Japanese in such a manner that they are unrecognizable to monolingual English speakers.

Sanseidō’s Top 10 New Words of the Year for 2019

    1. ―ペイ–Pei. The suffix “pay” is commonly seen in the names of smartphone cashless payment services.
    2. にわかNiwaka. The “sudden” emergence of numerous rugby fans during the World Cup hosted in Japan prompted much usage of this word.
    3. あおり運転Aori unten. Loosely translated as “reckless driving,” this term refers to tailgating and other malicious activities that may result in serious accidents.
    4. 反社Hansha. This abbreviation of hanshakaiteki seiryoku (反社会的勢力), often rendered euphemistically in English as “antisocial forces,” refers to organized crime gangs.
    5. サブスクSabusuku. A shortened form of “subscription,” as seen for increasingly popular music and video streaming services.
    6. 電凸Dentotsu. A portmanteau combining denwa (telephone) and geki (attack) that means an organized campaign of aggressive telephone calls. It was particularly associated in 2019 with protests against an art exhibition in Nagoya that featured a statue representing wartime “comfort women.”
    7. カスハラKasuhara. When customer complaints go too far, they become “customer harassment,” which this word abbreviates. Bullying of service employees made headlines during the year, adding another hara to the list workers face, including sekuhara (sexual harassment) and pawahara (“power harassment,” or abuse of authority in the workplace).
    8. 垂直避難Suichoku hinan. “Vertical evacuation” may be advisable during a disaster, whether moving to a higher floor of a building before a tsunami or during flooding, or going down to the first floor when there is seismic disturbance or a fire.
    9. 置き配Okihai. Overloaded delivery companies are starting to offer “doorstep delivery,” where parcels can be placed in a designated spot when the customer is not there to receive them.
    10. ASMR. — There has been global interest in “autonomous sensory meridian response,” which is said to be a soothing, tingling sensation in the head triggered by auditory and visual cues.

Shōgakukan’s Top New Words of the Year for 2019

イートイン脱税Īto-in datsuzei [Winner]. Practitioners of “eat-in tax evasion” buy convenience store food taxed at 8%, as if they are planning to take it out, but then proceed to chow down in the eat-in space, meaning that they should have paid 10% consumption tax.

にわかファンNiwaka fan [Runner-up]. Japan had many “fair-weather fans,” whose enthusiasm for rugby came out of nowhere during the World Cup.

闇営業Yami eigyō [Runner-up]. The “shady business” of various comedians who earned extra cash by performing for groups of gangsters was big news in Japan in 2019.

My favorite is ASMR because, while it is an English acronym that is said to be of "global interest", I've never heard of it.  Moreover, I've probably only experienced the sensation that it describes a couple of times in my life, if ever:

Autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR), sometimes auto sensory meridian response, is a tingling sensation that typically begins on the scalp and moves down the back of the neck and upper spine. A pleasant form of paresthesia, it has been compared with auditory-tactile synesthesia and may overlap with frisson.


Another thing that intrigues me about ASMR is that the vast majority of images associated with this phenomenon are feminine.

I would probably call this sort of thing "goosebumps", and I do get them fairly often in the presence of something awesome.

Question and observations about dentotsu 電凸, which is defined as "a portmanteau combining denwa (telephone) and geki (attack) that means an organized campaign of aggressive telephone calls".  I can comprehend what it means, but I don't understand why it is written with the kanji 凸 (totsu トツ・deko でこ) for the second syllable, since 凸 means "convex; (beetle) brow; uneven; forehead; bump", not "attack".

Dentotsu 電凸 is supposedly derived from denwa totsugeki 撃 ("telephone assault / attack"), which makes perfect sense to me, and the shortened form can also be written as dentotsu 電突 ("tele[phone] attack"), which also is perfectly intelligible to me.  So where and why does 凸 come into this?  Maybe somebody thought it's a graphically cute homonym since it looks like something that is invading you (with the top sticking out like that).

I must say, though, that despite this character and its pair 凹 (J. yō, ō, kubo / M. āo [“concave”]) appearing to be simple and straightforward, they are devilishly difficult to write, both in terms of their stroke order and the total number of strokes in them.  Officially, both in Japan and in China, they are supposed to have 5 strokes, but many, if not most, people write them with 6 strokes, and some even use 7 strokes.  Furthermore, the nature and order of the strokes differs in Japan and China, and among individuals as well.

When it comes to kanji / hanzi / hanja, as my brother-in-law used to say, "Never a dull moment".

[h.t. Don Keyser]


  1. David said,

    December 13, 2019 @ 6:52 pm

    The feel of 電凸 reminds me of the word 凹凸, conveying a sense of roughness/coarseness or being abrasive. It's of course been well noted that 凸 is reminiscent of Tetris, where such blocks can come flying at you with a fair bit of rapidity.

  2. Jim Breen said,

    December 13, 2019 @ 7:09 pm

    I always enjoy this annual announcement of "new" words. I check them against the JMdict dictionary database, and am pleased to note that almost all have been added, in some cases several years ago (e.g. あおり運転 was added 2017). In fact にわかファン was added over 6 years ago. にわか itself is a very established word, in fact it's in pre-modern texts such as the 万葉集 and the 徒然草.

  3. Paul Battley said,

    December 14, 2019 @ 6:17 am

    凸 looks very much like the RJ11 phone sockets used in Japan (among other places). I wonder if that's a coincidence.

  4. B.Ma said,

    December 14, 2019 @ 8:52 am

    I have seen 凹凸 used as "emoji"s to represent copulation.

  5. Ben Zimmer said,

    December 14, 2019 @ 11:18 am

    My first thought on seeing 凸 was not Tetris but Space Invaders. In fact, the Japanese Wikipedia page for Space Invaders uses the character in Unicode renderings of gameplay, e.g.:


  6. Trogluddite said,

    December 14, 2019 @ 5:45 pm

    Re: ASMR
    "Global interest" might be better put as "very popular as an internet meme for a while"! It is often implied that ASMR is a mildly erotic experience, for instance by the description of the experience as a "head orgasm", and I suspect that the associated trope of intently focusing on videos of softly whispering females is intended to reinforce this connotation.

    I experience several forms of tactile synaesthesia, including something consistent with the description of ASMR. Since discovering why it was that casually describing my sensory experiences was sometimes so baffling to people, I've spoken with quite a few other syneasthetes in detail about our sensory experiences. It's hard to be precise when talking about qualia, of course, but ASMR does seem to be a distinguishable experience, and indeed quite common amongst tactile syneasthetes. Of those who I'm reasonably confident do experience it, many, like myself, seem to find the sudden online interest rather bemusing, find the experience neither especially remarkable nor erotic, find the videos banal and unrelated to their own triggers, and/or suspect that many online reports are coloured by suggestibility and conflation with other sensations (while not denying that this may apply to us, too!)

    While I have no doubt that there will be people who have discovered this delightful qualia anew, or like me, discovered a name for it, the cynic in me suggests that the erotic connotations may have rather a lot to do with the sudden interest!

  7. Toby said,

    December 16, 2019 @ 3:38 pm

    This may have escaped the somewhat rarefied atmosphere of this blog, but 凹凸 are used in China and Japan on apps to describe sexual positions. On that basis 電凸 makes a lot of sense.

  8. John J Chew said,

    December 16, 2019 @ 9:35 pm

    I think someone was just trying to be funny 15 years or so ago when the word 電凸 was coined online. While trying to find out more about it, I came across this web page which explains how kids are long past 電凸 and now into making compounds from the new verb 凸る (meaning to contact someone, possibly nuanced to suggest that they do not welcome the contact).

    I could try asking my teenagers if kids actually still say 凸る, but I am afraid of sounding hopelessly out of date.

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