Blog Excerpts

Obama the Verb

From the blogosphere comes news that President Obama's name has become an eponym, but not in English. In Japanese, Obama has transformed into obamu — a verb that means, according to one blogger, "to ignore inexpedient and inconvenient facts or realities."

On his blog "Japan from the Inside Out," Bill Sakovich (aka "Ampontan") quotes a contributor to a mailing list for Japanese-English translation on the new verb obamu, now becoming popular on the campus of Kyoto University:

It means something along the lines of, 'to ignore anything which appears to make you likely to fail or (be) wrong, and blindly surge ahead (preferably chanting, "yes we can, yes we can")'."
Sakovich also found this example in a September 22 entry in a slang collection compiled by the Japanese Teachers' Network in Kitakyushu:

obamu: (v.) To ignore inexpedient and inconvenient facts or realities, think 'Yes we can, Yes we can,' and proceed with optimism using those facts as an inspiration (literally, as fuel). It is used to elicit success in a personal endeavor. One explanation holds that it is the opposite of kobamu. (拒む, which means to refuse, reject, or oppose).

The slang collection gives an example of its usage that translates as "Hey, why are you so down in the dumps? Cheer up, cheer up!"

One Japanese Twitter user defines the word in a recent tweet as "believing you can accomplish something." Sakovich adds, "It remains to be seen whether this word is capable of hitoriaruki (literally, walking alone, or becoming independently viable), and whether the tweety Pollyanna definition or the more pointed Kitakyushu definition become the standard."

Rate this article:

Click here to read more articles from Blog Excerpts.

Join the conversation

Comments from our users:

Wednesday October 21st 2009, 7:12 AM
Comment by: Kayyoum (Toronto Canada)
Yes we can! Yes we can!...OVERCOME!
Wednesday October 21st 2009, 12:35 PM
Comment by: Phil M. (tujunga, CA)
Well, at least he and the word are not negative. We all can use a bit of "we can do it " today.
Friday October 23rd 2009, 11:01 AM
Comment by: Westy (Paris, OH)
Obamu was the motivation behind Pickett's Charge.
Monday October 26th 2009, 7:23 PM
Comment by: Jack B.
Obama may not be perfect but who is?
Tuesday December 1st 2009, 5:50 PM
Comment by: Gabi F.
hahahaha. its intresting...the influence obama has made on the japenese...and the reputation he made to them. :)
Wednesday October 31st 2012, 11:29 AM
Comment by: Becky C.
I would say Martin Luther King, Jr had obamu. I would also add Abraham Lincoln, Chuck Yeager. I like the word!
Sunday August 25th 2013, 5:30 PM
Comment by: Mary C A.
Me, too, Becky C. I'd like to think I have obamu. I know I have Obama's back!
Friday August 30th 2013, 2:32 AM
Comment by: damia A. (Malaysia)
At least Obama will be reminded for the entire nation. Hello, even other politicians do not included in the dictionary
Wednesday September 4th 2013, 8:26 PM
Comment by: Mimose F.
Without having Obamu in 1981 I would never thought of going to college, never mind graduated in 1987 with a Pharmacy degree. Then, I was a 31 years old divorcee with three children(12,7 and 2)and a night job but, I had and still have strong Obamu going for me.
I said still because in 1993 I bought a house which turned out to be a money pit and leading me a few times to financial trouble. Every financial adviser I called to come helping me figure things out would always say "As a single parent, you can't afford this house, you have to sell it". Well,single parent has nothing to do with it, I have Obamu we still leaving in our house 13 plus years later.
Thursday February 18th 2016, 1:52 AM
Comment by: Nancy N.
So, in other words, it's the moral of the children's story we've all loved; 'The Little Train That Could.' I think something has been lost in the translation. It is not to be laughed at or scorned - rather it is the little dog that knows not his size, but triumphs in a fight with the bigger dog through 'verve.'

Do you have a comment?

Share it with the Visual Thesaurus community.

Your comments:

Sign in to post a comment!

We're sorry, you must be a subscriber to comment.

Click here to subscribe today.

Already a subscriber? Click here to login.

Eponyms in the Making?
What does it take for a name in the news to enter the lexicon?
Define Your Terms!
If you play your cards right, you too could be an eponym.