AND NOW: NAUI!

A most enjoyable little article at Néojaponisme, by Matt Treyvaud of No-sword, discusses the short, inglorious career of the Japanese “dead word” naui ‘now-y,’ “a mayfly of a word, declared dead almost as soon as it was born [in 1979], reviled as a desperate attempt to squeeze a few more youth dollars out of an already-uncool borrowed English lexeme (‘now’)”:

Back then, naui wasn’t without competition. For example, imai 「今い」, was a roughly contemporaneous and structurally identical synonym based on the Japanese word for “now” instead of the English one. But naui bested all contenders on sheer charisma. The precise image it invokes of an awkward middle-aged man finger-quote “rapping” with the finger-quote “kids” kept it in the vocabulary of both middle-aged men oblivious to their own awkwardness and all those embarrassed by and for same.

One interesting bit is a casual name-check of Cartaphilus, one of the versions of the Wandering Jew—to quote the Wikipedia entry, “a Jewish shoemaker, who, when Jesus stopped for a second to rest while carrying his cross, hit him, and told him ‘Go on quicker, Jesus! Go on quicker! Why dost Thou loiter?’, to which Jesus, ‘with a stern countenance,’ is said to have replied: ‘I shall stand and rest, but thou shalt go on till the last day.’” A more familiar name is Ahasver or Ahasuerus (under which name the Russian Wikipedia, as well as some other Slavic languages, places the story).

Comments

  1. In A Canticle for Leibowitz, The Wandering Jew was “the Wanderer”, none other than the same Lazarus Jesus raised from the dead. “What Jesus raised can’t die”. If I recall correctly, Scurrilous Poet might have been a pseudonym for this same character.

  2. That’s a great novel—I should reread it.

  3. As with naui so too with “trendy”, a rapidly remaindered word, picked up only by those who weren’t. Most frequently encountered in the company of vicars on motorcylcles and beat music combos.

  4. michael farris says:

    “a rapidly remaindered word, picked up only by those who weren’t”
    Or from an earlier period, “classy”. Is there a term for this kind of word that excludes the user from its class?

  5. A.J.P. Crown says:

    ‘Out of touch’.

  6. A.J.P. Crown says:

    Out of touch:
    In the 1960 obscenity trial of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, in which the legal profession was ridiculed for being out of touch with changing social norms, the chief prosecutor, Mervyn Griffith-Jones, asked jurors to consider if it were the kind of book “you would wish your wife or servants to read”.

  7. David Marjanović says:

    As with naui so too with “trendy”, a rapidly remaindered word, picked up only by those who weren’t. Most frequently encountered in

    German.
    Well, written German anyway. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone actually say it.

  8. michael farris says:

    It was also used in Polish a few years ago (I don’t recall seeing it recently and hope it’s died). Use was absolutely non-ironic (as it it being a good thing być trendy!)
    I also remember it being used as a (usually) plural noun to describe a certain kind of unwanted visitor at non-mainstream music events. Trendies were even worse than posers or wanna-be’s.

  9. A.J.P. Crown says:

    They use ‘trendy’ without irony a bit in Norwegian and ‘sporty’ is another complimentary one, especially for clothing, pronounced ‘shportty’.

  10. michael farris says:

    “Sporty” is another kind of critter. I don’t know about current or recent usage but I remember unironic use of it going way back (primarily in Black usage). It of course has nothing to do with athletics and was about a kind of casual flair that was very hard to achieve.
    I would imagine that in Norwegian it’s more about an outdoorsy or exercise oriented look (wild guess)

  11. Crown, A.J.P. says:

    I don’t remember that, Michael. I’ve been trying to figure out where they got it from. I’m not very fashionable, in fact i hate trying on clothes in shops more than anything, especially if they’re trying to get me to buy something, mostly my wife does it. But I think it applies to stuff like jogging shoes, yes.

  12. They use ‘trendy’ without irony a bit in Norwegian and ‘sporty’ is another complimentary one, especially for clothing, pronounced ‘shportty’.
    I don’t think I’ve heard that pronunciation before; the most common is at least an approximation of the English pronunciation (though “Norwegianized”, with ‘rt’ assimilating into a retroflex t). I can imagine an ironic use of the word with the ʃ pronunciation, but as a rule it’s pronounced /sp/.
    In addition to the “sport” meaning (someone can be sporty if they are of the type that exercise/are outdoors regularly), it can be used (as noted above) about clothing. It’s hard to pin down the meaning, but the dictionary definition gives “that which is useful in sports” and “elegant”.
    The second meaning has to be with being a good sport (det var sporty gjort – literally something like “that was sportily done”).

  13. A.J.P. Crown says:

    Yes, the Norwegian pronunciation (at least around Oslo) of s- words that come from English is shporty, shlippersh and shortsh (sporty, slippers and shorts).

  14. trendy is still regularly used with bistro, etc. And sporty with coupe, etc. But these are almost fossilized phrases.
    I will confess that naui puts me in mind of the new-i and now-a of the borderline racist Puffa Puffa Rice jingles of the 1960s.

  15. A.J.P. Crown says:

    One thing the title reminds me of is the Australian soap McCloud’s Daughters, the continuing story of two feisty sisters who inherit a horse farm or a sheep station or a cattle ranch. The actors make the word ‘no’ have two syllables: ne-ee (where the first ‘e’ is a schwa). I think this is quite common in Australian English, and it may be regional, I don’t know.

  16. It’s “Ahasverus” is Danish, too. And Dutch although that might have been introduced in translation (pretty good work done in the eighties).
    Myth has it that you mustn’t leave your plough out on Christmas night lest Ahasverus rests on it – it’s the one night he’s allowed, but only if something has been left out like that. If he does it will never plough right again, and the soil will grow infertile in its furrough.
    But you’d have to be a pretty slatternly peasant not to take better care of your machinery, so as superstitions go, that’s not a bad one.

  17. Yes, the Norwegian pronunciation (at least around Oslo) of s- words that come from English is shporty, shlippersh and shortsh (sporty, slippers and shorts).
    But shorts are pronounced that way because that’s how it’s pronounced in English. And slippers because of the initial ‘sl’ – all such words are pronounced with the ‘sh’ sound.
    Like I said, I don’t think I’ve ever heard the pronunciation ‘shporty’ before, and I’m from Oslo.

  18. @Nick: I think you didn’t notice the “sh”-s at the ends of the words “shlippersh” and “shortsh”.

  19. A.J.P. Crown says:

    That’s right, Nick. You’re just not hearing it. Everyone round here says shporty, probably even you. I would draw a little smiley face now, if I knew how. Let’s see… ( :-))

  20. A.J.P. Crown says:

    …slippers because of the initial ‘sl’ – all such words are pronounced with the ‘sh’ sound.
    Oh, and that’s wrong, by the way. I don’t know who told you that, but they must have been drunk at the time.

  21. @Nick: I think you didn’t notice the “sh”-s at the ends of the words “shlippersh” and “shortsh”.
    Ah, indeed I didn’t. “Shlippersh” can be explained by the fact that ‘rs’ is pronounced ‘sh’; as for “shortsh”, I think that’s most likely because of the ‘rt’ combination being pronounced as a retroflex t, which then colors the pronunciation of the final s. In slow and careful speech, I think it would be realized as an s (but that might vary depending on the individual).
    Everyone round here says shporty, probably even you.
    No, I’m quite sure I don’t say it. From Bokmålsordboka:
    sporty a3 (utt spårti; eng.)
    I don’t think I’d found your pronunciation particularly strange, though in my experience it’s most often used somewhat ironically.
    Oh, and that’s wrong, by the way. I don’t know who told you that, but they must have been drunk at the time.
    Do you have any counter-examples?

  22. A.J.P. Crown says:

    You could try sl- in the OED.

  23. Ah, I think we have a misunderstanding. I meant “all such words in Norwegian“.

  24. A.J.P. Crown says:

    See what you mean. f.eks slips. Han går på ski i slips, shorts og slippers. Skikkelig sporty!

  25. A.J.P. Crown says:

    I asked my daughter (14, bilingual) if people say sporty or shporty and she said ‘both’. I asked if it was particularly young or old people who used one of them, but she said no. Then she said she didn’t expect the Spanish Inquisition, so I didn’t find out any more.

  26. michael farris says:

    “Then she said she didn’t expect the Spanish Inquisition”
    Who does?

  27. Nobody ever expects the Spanish Inquisition. If you want to find out anything you have to use The Soft Cushions. Maybe it has something to do with being expat. She probably doesn’t know anybody “old” and can’t say about that.

  28. A.J.P. Crown says:

    She probably doesn’t know anybody “old”
    She’s met people occasionally who are well into their thirties.

  29. Most Arabs have no clue about cultures where people don’t want to give their age unless they have been around Americans a bit. My conversations with Arab guys (Arab women won’t talk to a guy without being engaged)usually followed this typical 3-question progression: “Where are you from?–How old are you?–Are you a virgin?” They never ask your name. The first month I was in the country, I very quickly became sixteen, mostly because my Arabic wasn’t good enough to sustain a philosophical discussion about age disclosure, but also because I knew how to say sixteen in Arabic.

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