Japanese Abbreviations FTW

November 10th, 2007

(For you older folks, “FTW” stands for “for the win”, or, in other words “are awesome”)

English internet dialect has tons of abbreviations. IANAL, LOL, IMHO, RTFM. But they all pale before the greatest abbreviation on the net: (ry

It took me a long, long time to figure out what (ry meant, because it’s used in so many different contexts. I ended up just googling it. Turns out, it is short for (以下省略) (typed out, “ika shoryaku”), which means “remainder of this sentence omitted”. This got shortened to (省略) (“omitted”), to (略) (“omitted”).

The next step involves understanding how Japanese text entry works. Japanese keyboards, if you ever see one, have all kinds of crazy letters on them. What isn’t widely known by non-Japanese speakers, though, is that this is just a remnant of the way Japanese was typed on typewriters, and is now seldom if ever used by anyone under age 60 or so. Typewriters need one key per letter, because you push the key and the arm swings up and makes the letter.

However, typewriters were never that big in Japan, so you’re very unlikely to meet someone who has ever used one. Instead, most people know their typing from computers.

On computers, the way text entry generally works is by typing words phonetically on the keyboard, and hitting the space key to bring up a list of words which match that phoneme. You hit the space bar again to cycle through the entries in case the one you want isn’t the top of the list. When you get the right word, you just start typing the next, or hit enter. (There’s no conflict with the space bar being used for this, because Japanese traditionally doesn’t have spaces between words).

If you stop typing before getting through a complete word, you just get regular alphabet. So if you type “ryaku” and hit space, it turns into “略”. But if you type “ry” and hit space, you just get “ry”.

So “(略)” was shortened to “(ry” by just not typing the “aku)” part.

Anyway, enough of that. Sorry, night shift, mind wanders.

How, then, is (ry used? Simple enough: when the end of your sentence is bleeding obvious, you use it instead of typing out the whole sentence.

It’s kind of like the “…” in English, like in sentences like “People who do not remember history…” or “A bird in the hand…” But it’s used far more widely, and pops up absolutely everywhere. Sentences like “I’d been meaning to watch that movie for a long time, and so finally yesterday (ry”, “I never thought my house would be robbed, but last week I went on a trip (ry”. It’s even used in the middle of words. “Everyone thought the movie was boring, but I found it really int(ry”.

I’m just waiting to see someone write a sentence which consists solely of:

“aku)(ry. “

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