The world’s quirkiest phrases — Japanese contributions?

To commemorate the International Translation Day, the BBC posted this amusing article on their website:

Sadly there’s no Japanese phrase in this collection — perhaps not many Japanese translators noticed the call for contributions; when I saw it, the deadline had already passed. It made me think about the topic though, and here are my offerings to the compendium. Both are relative neologisms that have their roots in the internet slang.



This acronym (or initialism to be strict) was shortlisted for the annual Neologism Awards (新語・流行語大賞) in 2007 and now is in common use beyond the 2-Chan community it came from. It’s short for Kûki (ga) Yomenai or, literally, “unable to read the air”. When someone is described as KY, it means that the person is oblivious to the general atmosphere or the unspoken consensus. For example, if you are in a meeting and you insist on supporting plan A when it’s obvious (to everyone else) that plan B is the preferred option (perhaps because the big boss clearly wants it), you would be considered KY. The fact that you have a special word for lacking the ability to sense, and follow, the majority view typifies the Japanese culture to me as it implies that having such an ability is considered the norm.

Incidentally, abbreviating a phrase into an acronym instead a contraction is in itself a new-ish fad in the Japanese language, and such acronyms are sometimes called KY式略語 (KY-style abbreviations) or KY語 (KY words), KY being one of the best known examples.


草生えた (Kusa haeta)


This expression is even newer and is a good example of how the internet slang evolves. It means “I laughed” and is basically a Japanese equivalent of LOL (“laughing out loud” if you are not familiar with English internet slang). But why grass? Let me explain.

When you read interviews in print, you frequently come across “(笑)” placed at the end of a sentence, denoting that the interviewee laughed as they spoke. This convention was duly adopted by the online community (so much so that, with some input method editors (IMEs), typing “wara” brings up “(笑)”, complete with the brackets), but some people couldn’t be bothered typing this out and instead started typing only the first letter of wara, ending sentences with “w”. It quickly became common to express the degree of mirth through the number of w’s to add — w for amused, ww for hilarious, wwwwwwwww for I’m dying laughing, etc. Certainly easier to remember than the English equivalents of LOL, ROFL, LMAO, etc!

Now, if you look at a series of lowercase w’s on the screen, doesn’t that look a little like a grass-covered field against the horizon?


Thus the internet slang has evolved again, and you now have 草生えた (kusa haeta = grass has grown) for “laughing out loud”, 草生える (kusa haeru = grass will grow) for “that’s funny”, 草不可避 (kusa fukahi = grass cannot be avoided) for “I dare you not to laugh” and 草生やしてる場合じゃない (kusa hayashiteru baai janai = this is not the situation to be growing grass) for “it’s not a laughing matter”.

Someone has even done a bit of DIY (a KY-word?) to craft a keyboard that literally grows grass when you type w.



Do you have a favourite quirky Japanese phrase, new or old? Add your own contributions below!

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