Don't try anything cute

JAPAN IN GRIP OF KAWAII SHOCK! As usual, things are subtly off throughout the article (Spirited Away as an example of "cute"?), and a discussion of the subtle differences between English "cute" (British or American?) and Japanese kawaii is missing, but there is an interesting bit at the end:

Indeed, Japanese have come up with nuances of cute and use phrases such as "erotic-cute" and "grotesque-cute" in conversation.

Yes, Japanese do! And foreign, such as my, do too! Erokawaii and gurokawaii are really useful words in a culture where so much of the cool art revolves around reacting to and commenting on kawaii things.

Having said that, though, this isn't some special effort that Japanese word-coiners are making for cuteness' sake. /Ero/ and /guro/ have long since been absorbed into the language as standard /i/ adjectival roots -- I think via the popular Japanese-sounding coinage /eroguro/, which conflates the two and is an old and respected criticism of popular entertainment -- and today can be attached to all kinds of words, with varying degrees of self-consciousness. Erokanashii ("ero" + sad)? Check. Gurotanoshii ("guro" + fun)? Check.

And, to take another step back, many (most?) Japanese adjectives can handle this treatment, again with the caveat that some usage is intended to be entertainingly non-standard. Even usage like this is understandable to all, though, and so you have words like omoshirourayamashii (funny/interesting + enviable) and urusakawaii (noisy/annoying + cute). The only obvious non-semantic restriction seems to be that combinations where the first half ends in /i/ are avoided, even down to removing final /i/s where necessary. so /kawakakkoii/ (cute + cool) is more common than the expected /kawaikakkoii/... but /kakkokawaii/ (cool + cute) is more common than both put together.

Popularity factor: 2


I don't read much about Japan in hard print, but I saw a version of this article in my local newspaper a few days ago, and what bothered me most of all was the hyphentation used. My guess is that if a word is not in their dictionary, any hyphenation is used, which resulted in such awkward breaks as: ukiy-oe and net-suke. Maybe the latter is forgivable because that is how English phonology deals with ts, but the first one seems completely random. Have you noticed this kind of awful hyphenation before, or is it just my local paper?


I have to admit, I haven't noticed that, but I suppose it makes sense. If their layout software is designed for English, it probably has (like you say) a dictionary, and then a few rules based on how English is usually spelt (e.g. "ts" is usually breakable "t-s", "Vy" is probably breakable after the vowel.) You'd think that "ukiyoe" at least would be in their dictionary, though.

Comment season is closed.