Matt of No-sword has another essay up at Néojaponisme, this one about the old-fashioned Japanese word haikara, from “high-collar,” meaning ‘fashionably European’—with whatever emotional freight that carried for the user:
Originally, then, Ishikawa intended the word to be derisive. He used it, Ishii says, to describe people whose “adoption of the especially high collars fashionable in the West and smug-faced manner seemed a gratuitous implication of their recent return from abroad — the utmost limit of affectation.” …
Ishii claims that haikara’s big break came in 1900, by way of a speech given by Komatsu Midori (小松緑) at a farewell party for Takekoshi Saburō (竹越与三郎) held in Tsukiji’s Metropole Hotel.
In our world to-day, Komatsu said, the word haikara is generally used with derisive intent — but this is mistaken. Haikara evokes a civilized person of pure and noble character. Indeed, has not even our good Ishikawa, who spends so much of his life attacking haikara, honored us this evening with an exceedingly haikara ensemble?
Komatsu’s speech brought down the house, made all the papers, and gave haikara a decisive positive spin on its way to nationwide fame. Before long, Ishii writes, it came to mean “fashionable”, and then just “new”, until even schoolchildren were running around pronouncing baseball mitts and overcoats haikara.
(Naturally, not everyone went along with this positivity. One of the charms of the word is that two people could agree that a third was haikara based on diametrically opposed opinions of their taste, intelligence, and character.)
I love this sort of word history, and I hope Matt keeps it up.