Posted by: Leek | July 2, 2013

An Idiot’s Ethnography of Nico Nico Douga: Comment Culture Part 2 – The Deal with “w”

After a long wait, I finally dug this article out of the grave. Since the previous version was wiped with a few other article drafts, I finally regathered the data to write it again. The second half of the article was originally intended to simply contain a explanation of the 「w」 comment on Nico as well as include some basic definitions for other terms. As I continued to work on the article, I realized that trying to include both in one article would turn out too long. Due to this, I decided that the second part should simply cover 「w」 while the third would be the simply dictionary list. This would make it easier for the readers who don’t wish to wade through a long article just to access the dictionary segment if that’s all they wanted to read.

So the entire core of this article will deal with the 「w」 that all are familiar with that have seen any bit of Japanese online language usage. For those who truly want to understand the idea of 「w」 I’ll direct you to this section of the comment article. The third part of this series will contain a smaller definition for those who are less interested in reading a fleshed out explanation. If that short explanation proves insufficient (which it should, I’m writing this for a reason) to you as a reader then you can return to this article for all historical and the extensive complexity of use.

You have my attention

My intention isn’t to change lives but I did want to introduce you to what you’re probably not seeing. I know the the understanding of 「w」 by some people is very limited and there is very little way to learn about how crazy of a term it actually is. And I’m not trying to say all your ideas about it are wrong but hopefully you’ll remodel your ideas so that you understand the pure scope of the term.

With the details aside, let’s study some grass.

History and a Literal Definition of 「w」
When it comes to my research, there is nothing I’m quite as passionate about as the extensive manipulation and communication formed via comments on Nico (and Japanese net speak in general). But why did I isolate 「w」 and no other comment? Why do I insist on having it in full width characters like it matters? Hopefully you’ll come to understand this by the end of the article.

To start it’s important to understand where the plain term of 「w」 originated from. It’s origin, as most commonly sighted by various sites, is known to stem from (笑) (wara) which can best be defined as a onomatopoeia of sorts to indicate laughter. The slow evolution (or de-evolution) is often understood as:

(笑) → (笑 → (w → w

If you’ve ever seen a interview in Japanese you might be slightly familiar with seeing (笑) which is used to indicate laughter after a statement. This will be used to explain later as to why you find 「w」 in a large variety of situations with a large amount of uses. The term itself was a breakdown of a formally used term that would re-evolve and be shaped by a various mixture of uses and revision.

The most common definition of 「w」 you’ll find on any site is that it’s the Japanese equivalent of the Western “lol”. I will put my foot down and say this definition is entirely wrong and a severe misjudgment of the term’s complexity. I will repeat that 「w」 meaning “lol” is a terrible misunderstanding and and I recognize it as a false definition of the term. Not that I don’t believe “lol” contains complex context in Western culture but it lacks the same amount of utility as 「w」 does in Japanese net dialogue and, in the case of this series of articles, on Nico. If you were to ask me for the Japanese equivalent of lol I would most like direct you to ワロタ (“warota”) which is more directly translatable as lol. Warota itself acts not as an acronym but a net way of saying the verb 笑った (“waratta”) which is the accurate word for claiming that you laughed at something. While I don’t plan to go into the history of where this comes from, it is merely a shorter way of saying the same thing. Variants of this can be appended to help indicate various levels much like one can generate via “ROFL” or “LMAO” in Western society.

But what could it possibly mean?

With the incorrect definition set aside, how would I plainly define 「w」 for someone? The term itself is a shortened way to say and should be read as わら (“wara”) which acts as a onomatopoeia for laughter. So when you see a chain of 「w」s it would literally be read as “warawarawara” and so on. In other words, you can think of it as writing out “Hahahaha” in English. Which is an odd thing to say since in Japanese and on Nico it’s not rare to see ハハハ (“hahaha”) on it’s own. Unfortunately, it comes down to the fact that expressing laughter can become a very distinct and sometimes complex situation given various contexts. You’ll notice later if you choose to read the dictionary section that I’ll try and explain the uses for as many distinct laughter expressions as I can. My main point is that many forms of laughter expression and uses have come onto Nico throughout the years so that comment context is easier to read as long as you are watching a video within a generally similar time frame.

So if Japan refuses to type out “hahaha” why not simply type out “warawara”? Just like in spoken language there is always a way to help cut out and make things easier to say in Japanese. This applies especially when thinking about mobile phone usage and the need for shorter ways to say various things. So “wara” was shortened to a simple 「w」. When you type this out on a IME input you’ll usually find that it automatically defaults to the full width “w” which is why you will often see the 「w」 appearing often as a full width character as opposed to the common Western half-width counterpart. That doesn’t mean you won’t see a simple half-width “w” in certain situation as everybody’s choice of IME settings can cause different behaviors but the most default and common situation would bring about the full width 「w」. Just a small detail.

Properly Navigating the Uses of 「w」

So if this is the definition of 「w」 why do I insist that it contains a more complex definition? This can be easily explained by cycling though how you might see it used frequently on Nico. You may find that 「w」 doesn’t just come on it’s own but also after an ordinary comment. Or even more commonly you may see something like ワロタwww (“warota warawarawara”). But I’m sure if you’ve been following along with definitions this may seem fairly redundant. You may not imagine yourself typing out “lol hahaha” at any point in your life. So what do the 「w」s mean in this context? This goes back to when I first described where 「w」 had originated from. The way term (笑) is used here can indicate laughter after a statement is made.

But what may occur in something like ワロタwww (“warota warawarawara”) may indicate tension in a statement. This tension usually indicates that something is being said in good humor rather then just straight out. For example if you were angry and yelling at someone you wouldn’t carelessly append a 「w」 or you might be read as saying something sarcastically. I’ll present four comments below and say what each one might be saying in context.

下手 (“heta”) – If you find someone particularly bad at something you might often say “heta” or even further “hetakuso”. Simply, you’re telling someone they’re pretty damn lousy at something. A common example of when you might use this is during a live stream of a game to call someone out on their skill level. However, leaving this kind of comment would most likely be read in a negative context. As such, if you don’t intend to be an actual jerk to someone then you might type something like…

下手www (“heta warawarawara”) – You’ll realize this is the same comment but simply with 「w」 appended at the end. This in a simple context would mean that you’re not being incredibly severe in your statement. Depending on the flow of a conversation this would most likely be read as a good humored statement and indicate laughter from your end. But it is important to remember the context you are saying something in. If the environment of a conversation was particularly negative then even appending 「w」 might not save you. So it’s wise to remember that it is not a fail safe to use all the time as it can also multiply negative nature in the wrong context. But if you were to do such a thing while addressing a friend they would most likely take it in good humor and a joke rather then taking offense.

下手ワロタ (“heta warota”) – So what is the difference in this statement? Unlike it’s shorter sibling, ワロタ doesn’t quite carry the same meanings that you may wish for it to. Unlike 「w」 it will not as often be read to carry the same positive meanings and will just indicate laughter. Just imagine walking up to someone struggling and saying “You’re so fucking bad I can’t stop laughing”. This in mind, it can instantly multiply the negativity of a statement and more likely be interpreted as direct bullying. In any case, I would advise against using such a statement except in a negative context. And there’s no reason you should be saying such horrible things anyway, correct?

へたワロタwww (“heta warota warwawarawara”) – This is one of those really odd cases where you get a comment that hangs perfectly on the middle line of how it is perceived. ワロタ and 「w」 tend to add up differently and will always be read based on what comment they are following. In this case, the stem is a generally negatively perceived comment. This means in most contexts it would be read as negative (potentially amplified due to the stacking of laughter and tension). However if you were to throw it out in a friendly atmosphere or sent it via a text to your friend it would most likely be taken in good humor. But for most cases if you want to do light mocking it’s simply easier to drop the ワロタ and simply add the 「w」 to your statement.

Food for the trolls? Or food produced by trolls?

In these few cases you’ll notice that I simply cited the case of a negative statement. However, you may wonder how things would look if you used it in a complimenting statement. So I’ll give you some fun little equations that you can use as basic reference. These don’t always apply but it’s good reference until you learn how to better read context that you can freely use any without being misinterpreted more often than not.

(+) statement + ワロタ + 「w」 = + comment

– statement – ワロタ + 「w」 = – comment

As you can see, it’s only the negative statement that really offsets the formula. This is essentially why I chose to give examples using it. Outside of that context then ワロタ will always be read positively (if not neutrally) and thus you will avoid any mishap in using it. Confused yet? If you are then I won’t tease you for it. The purpose of this article is to educate as much as it is to confuse. If you remember my original claim I was trying to prove how complex 「w」 is. Pretty good for one letter, right? But now that we’ve tackled it’s origins as well as minor uses, let’s move on to a few smaller details

Don’t you think you’ve typed one 「w」 too many?

The last general segment of this article focuses less on the specific use but mainly the amount of 「w」s that show up in a statement and how this is interpreted. I have been talking of appending it to the end of statements but I’m sure people have seen tons of 「w」s by themself and then a ton at the end of the statements. But how is this all perceived? How many 「w」s start putting your statement into a different context? When do you use it and when do you not use it? For those of you that read Part 1 of this comment series might remember how I mentioned “standing out” too much in comments was a bit of an issue on Nico. Don’t be surprised if I reiterate certain points.

For the first division of this section, let’s talk about the lone 「w」 without a statement. I mentioned that on it’s own 「w」 should be perceived mainly as a stand in for straight laughter. So I know what you’re thinking, “If that’s the case I can fill the comment box with 「w」, right?”. And my answer to you would be a straight, “no”. While the danmaku mentality will forever be a Nico phenomenon even just ten people filling the comment box with 「w」s would be a disgusting obstruction. And, to be honest, most viewers have a filter on that will mark any comments as spam that exceed a certain amount of characters. So your line of 20 「w」s will probably go unseen by the common populace. If you were to ask me the average amount of 「w」s that is tolerated I would say somewhere between eight to eleven. I believe it’s a good number to create a good danmaku look without being overly obstructive. Of course, this is in a standalone 「w」 only comment and not at the end of a statement. So be warned.

But you may also think, “Do I really need to use that many 「w」s every time?”. Again, the answer is no. In fact you’ll find people may put as little as three or even one 「w」 as a single comment. What does this indicate? A place you might find something like this is during a game playthrough or live stream. Say someone made a small joke or had a minor reaction to some cutscene in a game. At this point you might have chuckled at the comment and thus as a space filler throw out a single or a few 「w」s for the uploader/streamer. You may think it’s pointless but you’ll be surprised at how just a little reaction is received positively. It’s important to remember Nico’s somewhat open theater style environment that is created via comments. Creating this kind of space filler is not only positive reinforcement for the uploader/streamer but also loosens the tension for other viewers. There have been many people who confess to the inability to enjoy watching videos with little comments so this a good method of breaking tension. It also encourages other people to participate or even simply watch the video in the first place. Not that I’m advising you to just throw around 「w」s every time you laugh. But it’s good to remember that using less than a danmaku of 「w」s isn’t a crime. It takes time to understand how to comment but I believe it’s something you can learn simply from watching comment flow on older videos. Again, if 「w」 was so simple to use then this article would have no reason to exist.

This stuff just might be edible.

So now that I talked about the lone 「w」 what about when you start adding it after a statement? If you thought single usage seemed complicated then your head is about to start spinning again. To put it at a basic level I advise cutting down on your 「w」s if you just want to simply add some good humor to the end of your statement. In this situation even just a single 「w」 suffices but going up to four or five isn’t a crime. It’s simply up to you to judge the length of your statement. If it is something as simple as the example I posted earlier then four or five 「w」s won’t make it too long or obstructive. It’s simply an art of making a compact comment and getting your intention across properly. And, as always, it’s a great idea to not overdo it. If you go into a video, write in complete sentences, and add five to six 「w」s to the end of all of them then people are probably going to get annoyed. Long comments aren’t a crime but they aren’t welcome in every type of video by every type of person. So it again comes down to using your better sense and experience to police your own comments.

Next I’ll throw out a couple of comments to try and show other ways that 「w」 will slip into statements outside of ending them outright.

ちょwwwおまwww (“cho oma”) – A very classic combination that you’ll see about anywhere. As a simple statement you’d read it essentially as “chottomatte (omae)” and is essentially a common comment used to call out someone on a silly statement or action. As you can see 「w」 slips inbetween words here and fills out an entire statement. Just imagine it as if someone is trying to talk while laughing. That’s essentially the effect that’s being created by using 「w」 this way and much akin to it’s solo form.

おwwwちwwwつwwwけwww (“ochitsuke”) – Another common way that 「w」 slips within a single word. It’s similar to what you saw above but on a higher level. In this case you’re laughing so hard that you can hardly even speak correctly. As you can see, 「w」’s synonymy with laughter allows you to indicate a ton of intricate deal in your comments. This is one of the reasons I simply don’t accept the “lol” definition. “lol” just doesn’t bear this same utilization and there’s not quite anything I’ve encountered in English net speak that can be used the same way.

As a humorous side note to explain the images I’ve been inserting, a common expression when something is really funny is that you might say 「草が生えている」 (“kusa ga haeteiru”) aka that grass is growing. This is based off an old joke made that all the 「w」s on forums and other places resembled grass. So people began to say things such as “there too much grass growing here” or “a ton of grass is going to grow” in joking reference to the 「w」 phenomenon.

But what happens when you start growing too much grass? Like I mentioned before using too many 「w」s too often isn’t always characterized with the best of people. While it won’t hurt you if you play around sometimes, if you decide to end and intermix all your statements with a ton of 「w」s chances are people will starting think you’re flat out crazy (or simply annoying). On top of that, various internet trolls often enjoy using a ton of 「w」s in conjunction with rudes statements which is why I mentioned prior that 「w」 can multiply negativity in the wrong context. So even if you don’t intend to look like a jerk when you do add a ton of 「w」s there is nothing stopping people from likening you with the wrong kinds of people. In a playful context or directed at friends there is generally the mutual understanding that will protect you but it’s best just to avoid abusing the act. Again, it just becomes a game of checking your footing properly before you climb.

Congratulations, you made it to the end (and I want to assume you didn’t cheat). If you have read up to this point then chances are you can understand all my opening claims. 「w」 cannot simply be defined with a “lol” as the amount of uses, definitions, and tension it can create is completely unrivaled. In all the time I’ve studied communication via net speak in Japan, there is nothing that gets me more excited than talking about 「w」. It’s complicated but that’s what makes it beautiful. It’s nothing someone can pick up so easily and use to it’s full potential. In all my years in communicating online with friends in Japan, there is nothing I think over more than where to put my 「w」s and when. There are times when I meet new people and I have trouble talking comfortably simply because I’m afraid to be too casual. And even I have made mistakes and offended people by using 「w」 in the wrong context. I’ve been called rude. I’ve been called a troll. And all because I made a simple slip and put some 「w」s in the wrong place at the wrong time. And while I regret it to a point it’s just the lessons you learn with a new language. And the overall complexity of 「w」 is why I always talk of Japanese net speak and net speak in general as a languages of their own to learn.

Forever mowing the lawn.

I’m sure even after reading this it will still be hard for people to truly understand 「w」. I’m sure people will still opt for the “lol” definition simply because it’s easier to say on the fly. But if you ask any of my friends, they will probably tell you how heated up I get when people throw that definition out so easily. And I always try to avoid going into lecture mode when people start talking about 「w」. But that’s just part of doing research on something. I’m perfectly fine with my passion and each day I manage to add new information to my definition. So if you think this is all I have to say about 「w」 then you are sadly mistaken. Come up to me in person and we’ll have a chat. Now that I have laid the foundation down for what I believe is the basic ideas of 「w」, I’m content to flesh out it even more for those interested.

Laughter, tension, sarcasm, mania, trolling, the list goes on. 「w」, in Japanese net speak, is really the little letter that could.

Previous: Comment Culture Part I – History, Styles and Evolution
Next: Comment Culture Part III – Baby’s First Nico Dictionary



  1. Hello.

    I’ve been seeing a lot of 「草」comments in Nico Nico. It’s used only once and doesn’t repeat itself in a comment. I understand that it has the same meaning as 「w」but does 「草」carry a different context like ワロタ does from 「w」such that there are appropriate and inappropriate usages?

    • 「草」is best seen as a neutral term, and it’s probably the most synonymous term for “lol” you’ll find in Japanese net speak right now. There’s only two real ways you’ll ever use it, but it’s just a simple, trendy cover all in that sense. Say you were going to write out a ton of 「w」 on a video, nowadays it’s more common to just type out「草」instead and it functions as the exact same meaning. The other fashion you could use it is just as a straight up replacement for 「ワロタ」. For example:


      Both 「ワロタ」 and 「草」here function as that same “lol” stand in. The only real difference is 「草」is more popular to use than 「ワロタ」for the current generation. Technically, it’s an expression that’s been around forever, but the current generation has taken to it fairly strongly for silly reasons I don’t feel like talking about. I’m sure a lot of people use it without knowing the full background anyway, so if you just want to look trendy than it’s just safer to opt for it.

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