The estimable Bathrobe sent me his translation of this NHK News story, which, as he says, has a nice prescriptivist ending:
More than half had a mistaken understanding of seken-zure
A survey by the Agency for Cultural Affairs found that more than half of respondents misunderstood the term seken-zure to mean ‘deviating from common ideas’ instead of the original meaning ‘wise in the ways of the world’. [Note: seken-zure, derived from 世間 seken ‘society, the world’ and 擦れる sureru ‘to rub’, refers to the state of having become crafty and sly due to various kinds of experience in this world. This has obviously been reinterpreted as 世間 seken ‘society, the world’ and ずれる zureru ‘to deviate’.]
The Agency conducts an annual study in order to determine how Japanese usage has changed. This time the survey covered 2028 men and women over the age of 16 across the country.
When asked the meaning of seken-zure, 35.6% chose the original meaning of ‘having become cunning through experience in the world’ while 55.2% chose ‘separated from the thinking of the world’.
In response to the same question in a survey nine years ago, half chose the original meaning. In the current survey, 85% of people in their teens, 80% of people in their twenties, and more than half of people in their 30s, 40s and 50s chose the incorrect meaning.
In another example, while the original meaning of manjiri to mo sezu (まんじりともせず) is ‘staying wide awake’, 51.5% of respondents incorrectly understood it to mean ‘staying motionless’.
In addition, 43.7% of respondents chose ‘reluctantly’ as the meaning of the expression yabusaka de wa nai in preference to the original meaning of ‘willingly’.
Kishimoto Orie, chief of the National Language department of the Agency for Cultural Affairs, said, ‘Differences in the understanding of meanings between generations can cause miscommunication. We would like people to be aware of the original meaning.’
It reminds me of Anatolii Koni’s rage a century ago at Russians using obyazatel’no to mean ‘obligatorily, without fail’ rather than ‘obligingly, courteously,’ which is what it meant in his day (he was born in 1844).