April 26, 2010

Nihon-GO!


NHK has a fun pop-sociolinguistics show called Minna de Nihon-GO! (みんなニホンGO!). The title is a pun on Nihon (Japan) and Nihongo (Japanese), and can be read: "Japanese, Everybody!" or "Let's Go Japan/ese!"

A recent program was about the language used in "confessions" and how the terminology had changed over the past fifty years. In Japanese that specifically means confessing love, or more simply, asking somebody to go steady with you.

One linguist theorized that changes in usage and vocabulary reflect a behavioral shift from "ABC" to "HIJK." The former is a well-used acronym in Japanese, the equivalent of the "bases" in English (apparently, if you get to second base, you're already home):

A. Kissing
B. Petting.
C. Sex.

I hadn't heard of "HIJK" before. It was new to some of the older panelists too. Unlike "ABC," which only reflects an order (like "1-2-3") and isn't a true acronym, "HIJK" is an "initialism" that reflects the sport in Japan of smashing together romaji and Japanese words.

H. Ecchi (エッチ), or sex. This is a double initialism. "H" was derived from the word hentai, a general term for anything of a salacious nature. It has since evolved to mean "sex," and is written in katakana and pronounced the same as the letter in English. In CSI: Miami, David Caruso's character, Horatio, is called "H" for short. But not in the Japanese dubbed version.
I. Ai (愛), or love.
J. "Junior" (ジュニア), referring to children.
K. Kekkon (結婚), or marriage.

In other words, a guy and a girl hook up, sleep together, fall in love, she gets pregnant, and they get married. Ah, the romance!

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