Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi is famous for making his own phone calls, ringing up advisers, friends, politicians and people he reads about in the newspaper. He picks up his push-button phone--pronounced "pushu-phone" in Japanese, using the English words--punches in the number and announces, "This is Obuchi."
After Obuchi's habits became known, it wasn't long before someone coined the word "buchi-phones." Soon journalists were writing, "The prime minister made some buchi-phones last night."
So is born a new Japanese word.
More than 6,000 words and phrases are added to the language each year--most of them short-lived--in a stream so rapid that people complain they often cannot fathom what is being said.
One word that is now acknowledged as a permanent part of the lexicon is risutora, the Japanese version of "restructure." Its most common meaning here is to be fired or pressured to quit as a company downsizes. "He was restructured" is heard frequently these days.
Teenagers are a major source of the linguistic additions, and, perhaps not surprisingly, adults say they are particularly difficult to understand.
All teens seem to know that one-giri, which translates as "one-cut," is a way of communicating with friends via cell phone without paying the phone company. The caller lets the receiving phone ring once, then cuts it off. The recipient sees the number, recognizes a friend and perhaps sends a one-giri back.
"If you've had an argument and your friend sends you a one-giri, you can send one back to let her know you're not mad anymore," said Aki Anai, 16.
"Sometimes I feel that Japanese must show more self-control, must have more backbone," said Hitoshi Shimizu, editor of a four-inch-thick annual volume called Basic Knowledge of Japanese Contemporary Words. "We are too loose, too out of control. We must show more discipline toward language."
He said new words are being introduced by ever younger people. "The media likes the young generation, and adults don't take a firm line regarding them. So they back down and use their words," Shimizu said.
He said that new words are like a code: "They express the personal feeling or attitudes of a group. It's a way of making a group identity. It says we are different from others."
Many of these words are in English, often shortened and always pronounced according to the Japanese syllabic alphabet, which does not include, for example, "th" or any single consonant except "n." The Japanese words derived from English are not always recognizable.
Game is geimu, animation is anime. From poketo (pocket) and monsuta (monster) the Japanese took poke and mon to make, of course, Pokemon!
"There is a clear Japanese ability to make new words. That capability has become greater and greater," said Fumihiro Tsubura of Iwanami Publishing Co., which produces a standard dictionary.
"I do think that the number of new words reflects the degree of modernization of the culture," said Fumio Inoue, professor of social linguistics at Tokyo University of Foreign Studies. "That's the first reason. The second is that we have a precedent for absorbing language from others."
The Japanese language is a mix of Chinese characters, words with Japanese roots and words from other languages. The distinction between words that were originally Japanese and those that came from Western languages is eroding.
The Japanese word for shame is shuchi. Young people are adding the English ending "less." So Japanese now say shuchi-lesu for shameless, which is how many people feel about twisting and stretching their language.
Special correspondent Shigehiko Togo contributed to this report.
CAPTION: Hitoshi Shimizu, editor of Basic Knowledge of Japanese Contemporary Words, said words are entering the language faster each year.