Colloquialisms for Modern Times

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Everyone knows that the younger generation talks differently from the one before, however, it just seems more extreme here in Japan right now. It’s almost like the sixties were in America – never trust anyone over thirty.  In Japan, the people under thirty seem to want nothing to do with the people who are over forty.  The youngsters have even invented a term to describe how out-of-touch they think the old-sters can be.

In Japanese, the term is Kuuki Yomenai.

Literally translated (thank you, Saori) it means “cannot read the air” – kuuki meaning air, yomenai meaning cannot read.  Basically, they mean clueless.

Here’s where it gets interesting, though: in Japanese, many things are shortened, word-wise.  A department store is a depato; a supermarket is a suupa; and a personal computer is a passocon.  There tends to be an infusion of English, as you can see.  In this case, though, it’s more than an infusion.  The Japanese kids actually say that someone is KY.  In Japanese, it would be Oto-san ni KY dessu – translated as, “my mother is KY – clueless.” The letters K and Y, though they do not exist in any sense in the Japanese alphabet, have come into use when referring to someone who isn’t with-it.  The sentence is only half in actual Japanese!

So let’s not get started on the connotation of KY to an American.  I know we’ve all see the late-night commercials about using KY to deepen her sexual pleasure, but these implications are lost on the Japanese – nonexistent.

Language is one of the biggest barriers separating the older generation from the younger, and the chasm is only going to deepen.  Going forward in Japan, it’s going to be interesting to see how decisions are made with regards to language and its growth – language is a living thing and the lexicon constantly grows.  If Japanese want to stay in the global game here, then the people have to work together, not allow polarizations between generations.  The future depends on it.

As for me, I hope to remain in-the-know as long as possible; I don’t want to become KY myself!