How to say “plumber butt” in Japanese, and other random Sunday thoughts


The other day I suddenly remembered the phrase 半ケツ.

I’m not sure what prompted it. I mean, I have as many random sexual thoughts as your average red-blooded American male, but this was not sexual in nature…at least not completely. My boss at the translation company used the phrase often when we had morning meetings. We didn’t have enough chairs, so he would nod at a couple of the ladies that worked in the office and say something like 半ケツで座って. Then they’d share one of the chairs and, literally, “half ass” it.

I’m not sure why I was thinking about the company or about the seats, but I guess it could have had something to do with the visceral nature of the asses. Who knows. Initially I was going to have this post be something about the viral nature of language, about how memory is kind of magical, which is also reflected in the way that kanji shift from blocks made of bits and pieces to larger blurs that carve out space in your mind over the course of your studies, but it turns out 半ケツ is a pretty interesting phrase.

First, ケツ has two options for kanji: 穴 and 尻. You can read more on this Yahoo Chiebukuro post, but this does make for the possibility that ケツの穴 could be written as 穴の穴, which is pretty cool.

Second, 半ケツ also happens to mean “plumber butt” in Japanese. Read more on this blog post. Google Images confirms that this is indeed the case: follow this link at your own discretion (NSFW).

So I guess the real moral of this post is…you just never know.

How to Condolences

I’m in The Japan Times again this week with an article about how to offer your condolences: “Condolences: what to say when there’s nothing you can say.”

I’ve had this happen to me twice now. I detail the first one in the article. I managed to handle the situation with a little help from my friends.

But the second I’m not sure if I handled as adeptly. My host mother in Aizu lost her husband last year, and another friend in town let me know that he had died. I shot off an email in both Japanese and English. She’d been part of the English Conversation classes in town, and at one point her English had been quite good. I thought it was a fair balance, seeing as how my Japanese has deteriorated slightly from its peak. Looking back, I did manage to get some of the phrases in there, notably お悔やみを申し上げます, but I missed ご愁傷様.

When I visited this past December, I asked another family what I should say in these circumstances, and they told me about ご愁傷様.

In the process of writing the article for the JT, I came across the blog 考える葬儀屋さんのブログ. It’s been running since 2009, possibly inspired by the 2008 movie Departures, which I’ve still yet to see…just put in an order on the Chicago Public Library.

The topics vary quite widely from topics such as 日本の仏教は正しいのか (Is Japanese Buddhism correct?) to 男性のお葬式の服装はユニクロがお勧め (I recommend men’s funeral attire from Uniqlo).

The two most interesting articles for me were ご愁傷様の意味と正しい使い方 (The meaning and correct usage of goshūshōsama) and 「お悔やみ申し上げます」の意味と正しい使い方 (The meaning and correct usage of ‘okuyami mōshiagemasu’).

Highly recommended reading. His look at the difference between 「公」 and 「私」toward the end of the first article is especially interesting.

The two most useful bits for me (in addition to what I already included in the article) were the following:

1. ご愁傷様 can be used in non-funereal situations as lightly ironic/funny. The examples he gives are of offering “condolences” to a coworker who has to work on a weekend and of Prime Minister Kan’s wife, who apparently said the line 「おめでたいと言っていいのかどうか。逆に、ご愁傷さまかもしれませんよ」 when Kan was inaugurated.

2. Families who are grieving can respond to ご愁傷様 with the phrase お心遣(づか)いありがとうございます (Thank you for your consideration).

I hope not to find myself in the latter situation anytime soon, but it’s always good to be prepared to dig up phrases like these. Part of doing Japanese is performing the ritualistic parts of the language. These are signs to others, and as a foreigner, I’d argue that they take on heightened meaning when building relationships. Once you’ve gotten beyond these, you can go deeper.