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Decoding Japanese Net-Speak: Unveiling Online Abbreviations

Young Japanese people have mastered reducing complicated Japanese phrases to a couple of Roman letters. From KY to DQN, let's look at some of these online code words.

By 4 min read

Japanese people love abbreviations. No sooner has a word become popular than an abbreviated equivalent comes out. That is how air conditioning became eakon (エアコン) and cost performance analysis became kosupa (コスパ).

Although English words are usually abbreviated to Japanese-English abbreviations in the Japanese language, sometimes Japanese people will convert from one language to the other. This leads to words or sometimes even whole concepts being represented by a couple of English letters.

This practice is especially common on internet forums such as 2-chan but recently has taken on a life of its own, spreading beyond the internet into the real world. Here are some fun (and sometimes rude) abbreviations that have slipped into text messages, messageboards and even real conversations.

1. KY: Unable to read the air

If someone has you looking like this, they’re KY.

Have you ever hung around with someone that just didn’t get it? Whether you were subtly trying to tell a friend to go home so you can get some sleep or hoping desperately to leave an awkward conversation, you have probably encountered the KY personality.

KY is an abbreviation for kukiyomenai (unable to read the air). Interestingly, it shows the difference between English and Japanese as English talk about “not being able to read the room,” whereas Japanese talk about “not being able to read (yomenai) the air (kuki).”

2. W and WKTK: Funny and excited

The fans are loving it.

The letter “w” is popular online. You often see simply “w” written to represent the first letter of warau (to laugh) for a quick response to a humorous comment, especially by women. It’s probably as close to “lol” as the Japanese get.

More interesting is “wktk,” which is made up of the strong sounds of the repeating phrases wakuwaku (excited) and tekateka (shiny).  The combination shows that the person is overcome by excitement to the point of being completely overwhelmed. For example, you often see it in live streams or comments when a pop star announces a tour.

3. DQN: Dum-dums

Typical DQN behavior.

The Japanese slang “DQN” (from dokyun, the sound of a gunshot in Japanese) or sometimes DQ, because the internet keeps making the short even shorter, is a slang used to describe someone foolish, a pleb or trash.

The term is believed to have originated from the popular TV show Mokugeki! Dokyun, which often featured unruly characters. As “dokyun” is the sound of a gunshot in Japanese, it may have been thought of as “I found who (the dummy) I was looking for.”

The term “DQN” really took off in the early 2000s in Japanese internet forums and message boards, where it was used to describe people who behaved in an obnoxious or disruptive manner. Over time, the term has evolved to encompass a broader range of negative traits, including delinquency, laziness, lack of ambition and general social awareness

4. KWSK and GGR: Google it


KWSK is a short form of kuwashiku (detail) and is used to ask someone to go into more detail about whatever they are discussing. On the other hand, GGR is short for ググレ (gugure), which is taken from the Japanese verb guguru (to Google something) with the -れ (re) ending, which is added as an order or command.

As if ordering someone to do something wasn’t enough, with most message boards being the toxic places they are, another anglicized abbreviation, KS, is frequently attached to make GGRKS. KS is short for かす (kasu), which most dictionaries translate as trash or scum. Thus, “Google it, scum.” Charming!

5. Orz: Do you see it?

More of a feeling than an abbreviation.

These words show how playful the Japanese younger generation is with their language, making up unique words and phrases for a new medium. As we previously discussed in our article about using Roman numerals in text messages, the Japanese constantly reinvent their language in colorful new ways.

Of course, these are common, but how young people communicate is constantly changing in Japan.  For example, “orz” is a funny abbreviation that doesn’t actually abbreviate anything. But it’s meant to be a poor fellow on the ground hanging his head in defeat.

The “o” is the head, the “r” is the arms and the “z” is the legs. Do you see it now?

How about you? Have you come across any of these? Let us know your experiences in the comments. 

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