Words go in and out of fashion just as easily as clothes and video game consoles. What seems “groovy” or “ill” one day will just sound utterly “beef-witted” a few years later.
And the same thing happens in Japanese. What were once extremely common words now just make the people who used to say them cringe. If you want to make your Japanese friends laugh with some seriously dated slang, or if you just want to test your own knowledge on some more obscure aspects of the language, then take a look at this list of 10 “dead” Japanese words.
#1. Word: Cho-beriba
Meaning: Super/very bad
Explanation: This popular word with 1990s’ Japanese gyaru may look completely foreign at first, but once you break it down it’ll have you cringing with understanding. “Chō/cho” is a prefix that can be added to pretty much any word to make it “super.” For example if you put it in front of “oishii” (delicious), then it becomes “cho-oishii” (super-delicious).
Here the “cho” is put in front of “beriba” – an abbreviation of “berii baddo” (very bad) – so all together it’s “super very bad.” Of course there was also the opposite word back then too: “cho-berigu” or “cho-berii guddo,” meaning “super very good.”
▼ Unfortunately it does not mean “super berry gouda,” because that would definitely be “cho-berii-guddo.”
Flickr (Quinn Dombrowski)
#2. Word: Auto obu ganchū
Meaning: Don’t care about/think nothing of
Explanation: Another ’90s teen word, this one has nothing to do with automobiles. You have to read it as a Japanese word, so “auto obu” is “out of.” “Gachū” is a perfectly normal word meaning “consideration,” so literally “out of consideration,” as in you don’t care about something at all… such as this word which went out of use as quickly as it came in.
#3. Word: Mabu-dachi
Meaning: Best friend
Explanation: This one was popular in the ’80s and ’90s, and it’s the first one with no English origin. “Mabu” is just a strange way of saying “real/true,” and “dachi” comes from “tomodachi” (friend). Put them together and you have a brand new out-of-date word!
▼ Man, get with the times! No one plays with Tamagochis anymore, it’s all about the Mabu-gochis now!”
#4. Word: Mabui
Explanation: Not related at all to the “mabu” above, this ’80s word was used mainly by women, perhaps so that they could tell their friends they didn’t just simply look “beautiful,” they looked “mabui!” Apparently this word has been around since the Edo Period (1600s to late 1800s), so it’s had a longer life than many of the other words on this list.
#5. Word: Abekku
Meaning: A couple (two people dating)
Explanation: This word was used in the ’60s and ’70s, and it’s the Japanese-ification (which is definitely not a dead word) of the French word “avec” (with). Why they chose that French word to mean “a couple” rather than, oh I don’t know, the French word for “couple,” is still a mystery.
▼ “The other words just did not have that je ne sais quoi.”
Flickr (Kristaps Berdfelds)
#6. Word: Oha-konban-chiwa
Meaning: Good morning/afternoon/evening
Explanation: Anyone who’s studied a bit of Japanese will recognize this popular ’80s word. It’s just “ohayō” (good morning), “konnichiwa” (good afternoon), and “konbanwa” (good evening) stuck together. It was used in the ending of the Dr. Slump anime, and people just started picking it up. I’m not sure it’s any easier to say than just looking at the time and giving the appropriate greeting, but stranger things have been inspired by Dr. Slump, so we won’t judge.
#7. Word: O-senchi
Explanation: The ’70s and ’80s women are bringing back the English words. This time “senchi” is an abbreviation of “senchimentaru” (sentimental), and they decided to give it a nice, softening honorific “o” at the front to make it sound nicer. How sentimental indeed.
#8. Word: Bai-bii
Explanation: A popular way for teens in the ’80s/’90s to say goodbye. If you said it now, you’d probably get the same reaction as if you told someone you’ll “catch ’em on the flip side!”
▼ Although, to be fair, the flip side is usually the better side.
#9. Word: Bacchi-guu
Meaning: Perfectly/really good
Explanation: Yet another teenage slang word from the ’90s, this one being a contraction of “bacchiri” (perfect) and “guu” (Japanese-ification of “good”). Apparently the people who grew up saying this one unfortunately haven’t quite grown out of it yet, and you can still hear 30/40-year-old Japanese men and women using it from time to time, much to the chagrin of their younger relatives and coworkers.
#10. Word: Wake-wakame
Meaning: I don’t get/understand it
Explanation: This one is just silly. Instead of saying “wake-wakannai” (a very informal way of saying “I don’t get it”), people just got rid of the “wakannai” part and replaced it with “wakame” (seaweed) because it kind of sounds slightly similar. It makes no sense if you think about it too hard, but if you actually say it to a Japanese person, I can guarantee you they will get a kick out of it.
So those are 10 “dead” Japanese slang words. I for one think some of them should get a revival, especially “mabu-dachi” or, for when I’m feeling fancy, “abekku.” What are your favorite “dead words” in English or Japanese or any other language? Let us know in the comments!