This article investigating Japanese politically correct terms started its life in the weirdest way. Recently, I’ve noticed that the word 子供 (こども) for child is starting to be replaced with “子ども” in a lot of documents. I decided to do some research on this trend and one of the first sources I hit upon was an October 2016 News Post Seven article suggesting that the reason was likely an anti-discrimination measure (Japanese).
Wait! What? 子供 is discriminatory?
Apparently — the articles I was reading assured me — it’s because the second kanji in the word is also found in words like 供 (そなえる) -- sacrifice or offer -- which is kind of an offensive way to talk about your beloved child.
Further research on the Nikkei website (Japanese) revealed that this may likely be an overreaction by “over-enthusiastic” bloggers and YouTubers. The reason seems to be more about the “look and feel” of the word rather than necessarily politically correct reasons. (If anyone has any reputable sources to back this story up, please let us know in the comments).
This doesn’t change the fact that a lot of Japanese people were willing to believe that this far-fetched story was true. That’s because recently, Japan has been cautiously experimenting with 言葉狩 (ことばがり), using words in an appropriate way and taking steps against 人種差別 (じんしゅさべつ), discrimination and so changing a word — even for the most bizarre reasons — was somewhat believable.
While the children themselves are likely not being subjected to extreme political correctness, the words used for the people who look after them may skew that way according to some. Traditionally, kindergarten work was performed by women, but recently a lot of men have been entering the profession. The original terms used for these caregivers were 保母 (ほぼ) for female and 保父 (ほふ) for male kindergarten teachers. However, this was widened to 保育士 (ほいくし) for childminder as a gender-neutral term that included both genders.
This is indicative of a general trend whereby, much like in the West, there have been efforts to make some careers more inclusive. Intriguingly in Japan, this has manifested itself mostly by getting rid of the female endings to jobs that were traditionally associated with women.
Originally, 看護婦 (かんごふ) was the most common word for a nurse. As anyone familiar with kanji knows, the final character “婦” is typically feminine as ふじん (lady). It’s counterpart, 看護士 (かんごし), is the word typically used for a male nurse and has the more masculine “士” ending that is found in such manly words as 武士 (ぶし) for samurai warrior and 騎士 (きし) for knight. As a result of these different endings, nursing as a career is now simply referred to as 看護師 (かんごし). Note the different, more gender-neutral kanji character at the end.
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