A Guide to Texting in Japanese
By Matthew Coslett
On February 20, 2017
When I was first in Japan I was texting a female friend who was studying in the same class as me. I told her that I had a Japanese exam coming up. I was expecting a 頑張れ message but instead I got a smiling poo emoji.
Err…thanks but no thanks, I thought.
Luckily I had another friend on hand to helpfully explain to me that young women sometimes use the poo emoji as a humorous way to say “good luck.” The connection between the two words may seem tenuous but it all comes down to a homophone. The word うんこ has the sound うん in it which is the same sound that is found in the kanji for luck (運 also read, うん).
How do you say LOL to your BFF in Japanese?
Of course, this type of thinking doesn’t extend to most other countries. Try sending most people a poo emoji and expect some very colorful words back! If anyone was to survey young people in the West, the most popular texting term would probably be something like “LOL” instead.
The abbreviation LOL has become so ubiquitous in the West that it can sometimes be hard to remember that other countries don’t use it and that it can be incredibly confusing for them.
The idea of laughing out loud when you read something funny is naturally not unique to Wester countries. Japanese has its own LOL term using the kanji for laughter. Usually, this is written as 笑.
Almost as ubiquitous amongst young women is the term “BFF” (best friends forever). The Japanese equivalent is to be “friends forever” or ズッ友.
Do you get the joke? The term is made up of the word ずっと (continuously) and the kanji 友 which is the character for a friend (the word 友達 is an example). Any high school teachers can expect to see this term splashed all over their students’ Instagram pages.
One of the interesting things about words like LOL and BFF is that they exist only in the word of text messaging. For the most part, we never actually say them out loud.
This is similar to the Japanese texting word 誰得 which crops up in text messages, but if you look in most dictionaries you are unlikely to find any entry for this word.
誰得 is made up of the kanji for 誰 (who) and 得 (gain), but is usually used in sarcastic way to say that something is a no-win situation for everyone involved. A close brother of this is 俺得 which is similarly made up of 俺 (oneself) instead of 誰. Appropriately, this word is used for when you feel that you are the only one who will benefit from the situation.
The time is nau
While 誰得 can be quite tough to translate, one of the easier ones — at least for English speakers — is なう/ ナウ. This is often added after an activity to mean that someone is doing some specific activity at exactly that moment.
For example, you might send someone the message 買い物なう when you are out shopping. It can also be used to tell someone where you are such as in 駅なう (at the station now).
Reading the air
Naturally, Japanese also has its own unique terms. One of the more popular ones is “KY.” The slang comes from 空気読めない (literally, “can’t read the air”).
Saying that someone can’t “read the air” means that they are ignorant of the ways to interact with other people in an appropriate manner. The person who is always ruining your party with inappropriate, out-of-place comments that they don’t understand matches this description perfectly.
Of course, this slang is popular at the time of writing. Naturally, informal language changes quickly and in five years these terms may seem seriously uncool ROFL. It sometimes seems that every month brings new and more complicated ways to say things.
So, we’ll throw the question open to readers. Have you received any interesting things in text messages that we didn’t cover here?