A friend of mine recently got a 1991 Toyota MR2 imported from Japan. And yes, while it is glorious to drive and fully mad tyte JDM, there’s only one thing I can’t stop thinking about in this car. It’s the floormats.
(Before I get into this, I just want to acknowledge that long-time MR2 fans have obviously known about this sort of thing for a while, but it’s not every day that I got to encounter Japanese-market cars imported over here.)
If you can’t see the slogan in the photo, the message in the floormat reads “A MAN IN DANDISM/NEW RICH & SPORTS.”
I’ve been trying to wrap my head around this phrase for almost a week now, and I do fear it’ll eventually kill me much like Lewis Black’s horse.
One more time, “A man in dandism, new rich & sports.”
I know it must mean something, as why would Toyota, even back then a vast global conglomerate, put such a statement in one of its cars without having one of its thousands of English-speaking employees read it over?
Though I think we can all agree that it is a completely nonsensical statement on the face of it, complete with incomprehensible grammar and at least one jumble of letters that I’m sure isn’t a word.
But let’s break it down in the hopes of divining something from it.
“A man,” is reasonable enough. Who is this man? We don’t know. The car is not the Man, we can be sure of that, as despite my inspections I could find no evidence of gender expression, identity, or genitalia. But, well, sometimes there’s a man, and there’s not much more to it than that.
So fine, there’s a Man. Let’s accept it, and move past it.
Is he in a house? Is he in a vehicle? Is he in peril?
No, he is in “dandism.”
And no, I have no idea what the hell “dandism” is. You might think Toyota meant “dandyism,” meaning the inherent philosophy of being a “dandy,” but you’d be wrong. First of all, there’s a word that already exists for dandyism, and that’s “dandyism.” Secondly, I sometimes like to flirt with dandyism myself, and a 1991 Toyota MR2 is not of a dandyists lifestyle, no matter how hard it tries.
Thirdly, there’s a theory floating around in some of the darker nether regions of the internet – commonly known as “car forums” – that say Toyota was going for an idea that it knew it needed to invent a new word for:
DANDISM FOR BEGINNERS
The Japanese are fond of using English slogans to market products. So in Nagoya - the home of Toyota, no doubt hours of brainstorming yielded the word “dandism” ...and it was deemed cool. Yes but what the heck does it mean? A quick bit of research revealed that it is actually derived from the word “Dan” (as in Judo) and refers to machoism or the traditional image of Japanese masculinity and patriarchy. Such sayings don’t easily translate across cultures, so you won’t find this definition in the Oxford English Dictionary. Whereas guys are walking around with a spring in their step in downtown Osaka cos they got “Dandism” on their roof, my initial reaction was to cringe - then I saw the funny side!
A MAN IN DANDISM, NEW RICH AND SPORTS
...and that’s what it says on the mats. Additionally, for the benefit of those in hot pursuit, some cars have a sticker in the rear window hailing this!
That sticker appeared on 1 in 10 Japanese market MR2s, and is often seen outside of Japan on grey market export vehicles. The factory flaw [sic] mats on these cars say “A man in dandism. New rich & sports.”
The dandism isn’t a corruption of “dandy”, i.e. effeminate 17th century metrosexual type, it’s a word coined by Toyota’s marketing people which is supposed to mean “tough” or “macho”, the “dan” comes from the martial arts grading system, i.e. “3rd Dan Black Belt”.
Now that doesn’t sound right, but I don’t know enough about Toyota’s marketing department in the early 1990s to dispute it.
That only answers the “dandism” part. What about “new rich & sports?”
The concept of nouveau riche, luckily, is definitely a thing. It dates back to at least the days of the French Revolution, the wordsmiths at Merriam-Webster point out, and was used then to refer to those of originally low peasant societal and financial rank, who suddenly found themselves members of a wealthy class.
Today, it also refers to the idea of being gaudy and tacky, and it has physical embodiments in the McMansion, the Bentley Continental GT, and since Toyota insisted upon it, the 1991 Toyota MR2.
And lastly, there’s also “sports.” While the MR2 has a small trunk and a small frunk, it doesn’t really possess a lot of space in either. Maybe you could fit a basketball in the passenger seat.
So there we have it – a tacky man is trapped inside his own ideas of manliness, whereupon he is destined to play basketball alone.
I emailed Toyota to see if they knew, and while the mystery still isn’t clear, it appears to be a result of the different system Japan has for selling cars than the United States, a spokesperson for Toyota said:
...the mats are specific to which market the car would have been sold in. They’re definitely unique to JDM, but not technically OEM. They most likely would have been delivered with the car when new, but could be very specific to the sales region/market that first sold the car. That market would have designed and had the mats produced independent of [Toyota].
So there you have it. I guess. I dunno.