Last week the NYT ran a story about how Barack Obama's version of spoken English has become a huge hit in Japan, emerging as the new standard for language-learning. This rings true to the fad/blockbuster nature of many commercial and cultural phenomena in Japan. And, we can all think of worse versions of English for them to emulate. (Carville? Stallone?)
But I thought that this item from the Ampontan blog, written by a foreigner in Japan, was more fascinating. It is about the way the invented verb Obamu -- オバむ, "to Obama" -- has gained currency among some Japanese youths. Explanation:
"obamu: (v.) To ignore inexpedient and inconvenient facts or realities, think "Yes we can, Yes we can," and proceed with optimism using those facts as an inspiration (literally, as fuel). It is used to elicit success in a personal endeavor. One explanation holds that it is the opposite of kobamu. (拒む, which means to refuse, reject, or oppose).
"[Japanese bloggers] give the following example:
"Or, "Hey, why are you so down in the dumps? Cheer up, cheer up!"...
"One more Japanese-language citation is from a Twitter tweet, which defines it simply as believing you can accomplish something.
"Those familiar with the language will understand immediately that such a coinage would sound very natural, and that it is typical of Japanese creativity and their sense of humor."
The absorptive-and-transforming power of the Japanese language is indeed one of its charms. It will be a good sign for Obama if his name continues to be used in this mainly-positive context.
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