February 04, 2011

The time is nau

Nau (なう) was one of the most popular new Japanese words of 2010. It was born on Twitter and SMS. And it means exactly what it sounds like. It's a phonetic transliteration of the English word. Nau means "now."

Strangely, it's often written using hiragana, which is usually reserved for native Japanese. Even pan (bread), borrowed from Portuguese in the 16th century, is commonly written using katakana.

This is because (the explanation presented on Nihon-GO!) it was adopted primarily as a shorthand verb conjugation, becoming an abbreviated form of the present progressive, ideal for Twitter.

Early adopters had noted the prevalence on Twitter of expressions such as, "I'm doing X now." The adverb translates as ima (今), but the present progressive (am doing) requires a longer -teiru (ている) conjugation.

And in many cases, a stopped consonant adds another character. There's also the problem of stative verbs turning the present progressive into the present perfect (see here), requiring more circumlocution.

Using nau cuts through all that. English comes to the rescue again!

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