Yūsei 優性 → Kensei 顕性

A couple of weeks ago the Genetics Society of Japan announced some changes in their new official glossary of genetics terminology. The most striking are the changes to the words for “dominant” and “recessive,” which are changing from yūsei 優性 to kensei 顕性 and ressei 劣性 to sensei 潜性 respectively.

The reason for these changes in particular is simple: to stop people misunderstanding what they mean. Etymologically speaking, yūsei and ressei imply something closer to “superior” and “inferior” than “dominant” and “recessive.” This is obviously not great for a field that is prone to lay misinterpretation about inherent superiority and the like at the best of times. The etymological implications of the new words are more like “apparent” and “hidden,” which does seem far safer.

There are also other adjustments. Some are housekeeping, like changing the word for “mutation” from totsuzen hen’i to just hen’i because totsuzen means “sudden” and isn’t necessarily part of the concept. Some are more expansive, like a shift in terminology relating to color blindness: the Society now recommends shikikaku tayōsei 色覚多様性 (“color vision diversity”) over terms like shikikaku ijō 色覚異常 (“color vision abnormality”), itself apparently a euphemism for the blunter shikimō 色盲 (“color blindness”).

One thing that isn’t mentioned in the news stories about this I’ve seen so far (example, example) is that these terms aren’t necessarily neologisms. A simple Google Books search reveals kensei and sensei in use as far back as the 1960s, for example. The newsy part is that the Genetics Society of Japan, based on consultation with its members, has decided to throw its weight behind the “new” terminology and deprecate the old. This will reportedly include trying to persuade the Ministry of Education and Everything Else For Some Reason (MEXT) to get on board, so keep watching your kids’ textbooks, I suppose.