'Tis the Season for Merikuri and Akeome

In a previous article I talked about how Japanese, with all its versatility, is a very Twitter-friendly language. So Tweets in Japanese tended to be less cryptic than their English counterparts. Well, I still stand by those observations, but as we approach the end of the year, I am struck by how cryptic the Japanese language can get when it needs to.

If you live in Japan, you might come across many a "Merikuri" around December 24th and 25th. That's the abbreviated version of "Merii Kurisumasu", or Merry Christmas. Going back to comparisons, メリークリスマス is only 8 characters long, which compares favorably to 15 characters (including the space) for "Merry Christmas". Great for Twitter. But spoken, we need to deal with syllables. And here, Japanese can be very cumbersome. Since Japanese kana characters are all either a vowel sound or consonant-vowel combination, and kanji characters can read even longer, Japanese syllables quickly pile up. So we get 7 syllables for メリークリスマス versus only 4 for Merry Christmas. Abbreviating to Merikuri reduces the syllables to 4. Likewise, we have these phrases often heard during the New Year's season:
あけましておめでとうございます=15 characters, 11-13 syllables depending on how you pronounce "Akemashite omedetougozaimasu."
ことしもよろしくおねがいいたします= 17 characters, 12-14 syllables depending on how you pronounce "Kotoshimo-douzo yoroshiku onegaiitashimasu."
Far too long compared to "Happy New Year" = 14 characters including spaces, 4 syllables.
So, in a way to speed up communication, Japanese people have devised...
あけおめ = 4 characters, 4 syllables (A-ke-o-me)
ことよろ = 4 characters, 4 syllables (Ko-to-yo-ro)

Ironically, many Japanese take this tendency to shorten words down to bite-size morsels as being slangy, vulgar, and a threat to proper Japanese. I just think it's a show of versatility. Cryptic, yes, but one of those things that make the Japanese language so interesting and alive. And although abbreviating phrases like Merry Christmas might be a recent phenomenon, the idea of shortening has been around for some time, with roots going back centuries.

Consider these examples: 東京大学(Toukyou Daigaku) becomes 東大(Toudai), 損害保険(Songai Hoken) becomes 損保(Sonpo), 特別捜査(Tokubetsu Sousa) becomes 特捜(Tokusou), 海外営業(Kaigai Eigyou) becomes 海営(Kaiei), 液体結晶(Ekitai Suishou) becomes 液晶(Eikshou)... get the idea? These are kanji phrases that are shortened by picking up dominant characters within the multi-character compound. 海外=Overseas, 営業=Sales, so 海営=Overseas Sales. Sometimes the shortened version becomes the mainstream, the way 液晶(Eikshou) became more popular than液体結晶(Ekitai Suishou), much like "LCD" gaining wider acceptance than "Liquid Crystal Display". The tradition of kanji contraction began in China where kanji characters were born.

So, whenever we approach that Christmassy time of year, I often find myself pondering this question: Would the English phrase "Merry Christmas", which was adopted into the Hawaiian tongue as "Mele Kalikimaka", be abbreviated in Japanese to "Mele-Kali", as influenced by an age-old Chinese recipe?

Best wishes to all, for a wonderful holiday season!