遠慮:Prometheus:: 怠る:Epimetheus

遠慮, as mentioned previously, means to actively refrain from doing something. This is a nifty way around negative imperatives or having to reply with a very blunt negative refusal.

怠る (おこたる) is another wicked cool Japanese verb that means, fundamentally, not doing something. Unlike 遠慮, which has a relatively positive meaning, 怠る has a negative connotation – it means to inadvertently fail to do something.

The usage pattern is Nを怠る, N being any noun or nouned verb such as 〜するの or 〜すること. (“Nouned,” by the way, is a verbed noun.) I’ve run into it recently while looking at manuals for arcade games. One sentence that comes to mind is 定期的な掃除を怠ると、X – “Failure to undertake periodic cleaning will result in bad consequence X.” I can’t remember what bad consequence X was, but I think it was something along the lines of electrocution…or maybe just malfunction?

定期的な掃除をしないと、is a perfectly valid alternative except for that pesky ない hanging around near the end of the clause. The company providing the manual wouldn’t ever want to imply that the game center purchasing the game, the お客様 as it were, might not do something, so they instead suggest that they might fail to do something.

Japanese is awesome.

遠慮 and 怠る correlate nicely with Prometheus and Epimetheus, as suggested in the title to this post. For those of you unfamiliar with the myth, 1) your parents deserve a smack on the head – what were they making you read when you were a kid? – and 2) this is a good place to start.

Prometheus (literally “forethought”) and Epimetheus (“afterthought”) were given the job of divvying up cool traits to all the animals. Epimetheus went about the task with Japanese efficiency, giving elephants really long trunks, making giraffes super tall, allowing cheetahs to run really fast, and neglecting to save anything for humans. To help his brother, Prometheus made man in the shape and image of the Gods. This angered Zeus, so he denied humans fire. Prometheus stole it anyway.

怠る is perfectly Epimethean. I guess Prometheus didn’t really 遠慮 all that much, but 遠慮 definitely involves forethought, so perhaps this is still a useful analogy.  

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