Cool Tongue Twister – 坊主が屏風に上手に坊主の絵を描いた

bozu

I’m in the Japan Times Bilingual page this week: “Repetition and role-play are crucial for speaking success in Japanese.”

I was stunned to see that no one had previously written about 早口言葉 (はやくちことば, tongue twisters)…as long as the search engine on the JT can be trusted.

They seem silly at first, but they’re actually really good speaking practice. So is just randomly repeating Japanese phrases while you’re at home alone. Gotta keep those muscles trained, and it’s fine to sound like a clown when no one’s around.

I wasn’t able to include one of my favorite tongue twisters: 坊主が屏風に上手に坊主の絵を描いた (Bōzu ga byōbu ni jōzu ni bōzu no e o kaita, A monk draws a picture of a monk on a folding screen well).

And of course there’s an excellent Yahoo Chiebukuro post where someone asks for the correct phrasing: Is the monk drawing a picture of a monk or ジョーズ (Jaws) or B’s (a band I think?). Someone mentions that only a monk would have existed pre-war. Another guy mentions that it could be regional and that near Universal Studios Japan (Osaka) they used Jaws…which sounds about right. Osaka is known for its sense of humor, but it could also very easily be just an elementary school thing. Those kids love jokes like that.

At any rate, an image search for a 上手坊主 led me to this amazing blog post that takes this absurd phrase to its logical conclusion: 坊主が屏風に描いた坊主が屏風に描いた坊主が屏風に坊主の絵を描いた.

I’ve taken the liberty of borrowing the image from the post (the blog appears to be deceased and originally intended to help old people retain their memory and eyesight?) and reproducing it above, but it’s an interesting read. Go check it out.

TJ(Too Japanese);DR: because of the way Japanese modifiers work, the language itself is easier to read silently rather than out loud. Modifiers (修飾) get stacked up upon a subject, and if you’re reading out loud you must sail only forward through unknown seas, while you may look back and forth if you’re reading silently and you are not slave to the unceasing plodding of your vision? Seems legit?

Y’all have any favorite 早口言葉?

Rite? Amirite?

You’ll have to forgive me – this semester has been insane. Japanese is still happening, almost on an everyday basis, but often it’s in my dreams. I have been reading Dance Dance Dance in Japanese with the hopes of translating some of the abridged sections this upcoming September. But other than that, I’ve been teaching, reading, and writing English. Here’s a quick lame post so that I don’t skip February.

I wrote about でしょう a couple years ago and wasn’t able to give a really good example of the tone that I was trying to express. Well, I was watching my Twitter feed not too long ago and caught this interaction between New York Times reporter Hiroko Tabuchi and Jean Snow of Neojaponisme:

Tabuchi’s でしょう I think accurately captures what I was trying to communicate – it’s almost along the lines of the tone of the English amirite? or rite?

To further impress this upon you, I have recorded my own versions of the various でしょう tones. Here is How to Japanese Podcast Ep 2, which is so short that it doesn’t even deserve a time index. Hope this is helpful.

Cool Kanji – 堅

堅い (かたい) is a word I had a basic feel for long before I knew the actual English equivalent. I took an intensive summer class after my first year in university, and I have memories of the sensei using it all the time and me not exactly understanding what it meant when they used it to describe different words and phrases. I probably looked it up once and then just let it sink in. Unfortunately I can’t think up any specific examples of what was and wasn’t 堅い. It might have just been keigo variants.

Needless to say, having an understanding of 堅い is immensely important in Japan. The rigidity of your speech, your body language, your overall interactions with other people – these are all very important in Japan. Arguably more important than elsewhere. This isn’t to say that you should tense up like a plank when you talk with your 社長 (all 社長 should be lovingly referred to, behind their backs, as “the Shach” – let’s make it happen, y’all!). The most respected ability in Japan is being comfortable with your situation and knowing when and when not to dial up the intensity/formality/rigidity/堅さ.

Because this is such an important idea, it can be abused for humorous reasons, as I’ve mentioned a number of different times – most recently in my article in the Japan Times today about universal humor. Check it out!

Cool Adjective – 悔しい

Well, all good things must come to an end. This post ends my 6+ week vacation from the site, and on Saturday the Seattle Seahawks ended the Saints’ hopes of repeating their championship last year. Our defense gave up 41 points – the most we gave up all season – and our offense was only able to score 36. If you had told anyone that the Saints would score 36 points, I’m almost certain they would have predicted a win. Alas, our defense was subpar all season, and no one was able to recognize this – almost every analyst picked the Saints, including the Wall Street Journal’s sports columnist, who remarked that the Seahawks had “no business in the playoffs.”

I only needed one word to describe the post-game feeling in Japanese:

悔しい

In English it would take a lot more to describe my feelings. I was totally broken, exasperated, depressed. It sucked. (The only upside is that, as a New Orleans Saints fan, I have years and years of practice losing, so I probably managed to go through the stages of grief more quickly than fans of other franchises. Bring on the 2011-2012 season!)

悔しい (くやしい) often gets defined as “vexing,” “regrettable,” or “mortifying,” but in practice it should never be translated this way. The most famous usage of the word comes from the comedian Ayumu Katoh of the group Zabunguru, who says the word and then makes a face that only he can make (if the YouTube link is broken, a Google Images search for 悔しい should suffice). The face completely expresses the feeling of 悔しい. I always think of it as an emphatic “This sucks!” or “It sucks!” depending on the context.

This is a good lesson to remember for other Japanese adjectives – うまい, おいしい, 痛い (いたい), 辛い (つらい) – whatever the adjective may be, you should never think of it as a one-to-one relationship with an English adjective. An emphatic うまい is more appropriately translated to “Damn, that’s good!” than “Tasty!” 痛い, of course, can be “Ouch” or “That hurts” – NEVER translate 痛い on its own as “painful.”

辛い is often close to 悔しい but involves more physical pain from the endurance of an uncomfortable situation (this is easy to remember: the same character for つらい gets used in 辛抱 [しんぼう], which is one way to say patience/endurance in Japanese). Something 悔しい just fucking sucks. Imitating Katoh’s phrasing is a good way to earn some laughs if you end up in a shitty position. Hell, might as well have a laugh.

Power Up Your そう – さようでございます

I haven’t done a pyramid style list for a Japanese word in a while (not since “Power Up Your ちょっと” to be specific), so I thought that I’d do one for the word そう. I’m referring to the そう used to confirm a question from someone else.

A quick example for those unfamiliar with the term:

A:もう3杯飲んじゃったの?
B:そう。

And now the pyramid:

そう。
そうよ。 *for women and womanly types only
そうだ。
そうです。
そうでござる。 *for people acting in 時代劇 only
さようです。
さようでございます。

The real point of this post is to introduce that last phrase – さようでございます. In very polite situations, そう turns into the slightly longer and more polite さよう. You can follow it with です for a standard keigo phrase.

さようでございます is up for debate on Goo in this post. The spirited first responder claims that it may be grammatically correct, but that he/she did not use it in interactions with customers because そう is so much clearer and less formal. He/she notes that keigo was initially used to distinguish between different class levels, and that overly polite keigo could be viewed as condescending or even insulting.

The second commenter comes to the same conclusion as the others and says that 1) grammatically it’s not a problem, 2) さようです is keigo enough on its own, and 3) just like many bits of language, it comes down to personal preference.

One interesting distinction made by commenter four via a link is that さようでございます is natural when used as emphatic agreement with someone, but very unnatural when used as an 相づち as そうですね so often is. The same link claims that さようでございます has come into more frequent usage because it makes old people feel special, and given the increasing increase in old people, this phrase only becomes more useful.

The first time I remember hearing it was over the phone when I was booking JAL tickets. The phone lady was so nice and patient with me and answered all my worrisome little questions with cheerful versions of さようでございます. At first I wasn’t sure what they were saying, but then it set off bells in some deep memory from a Japanese class and I vaguely remembered learning it.

That said, because of its high level of inherent hoity-toity-ness, さようでございます can also be used in an ironic way in much the same way that 遠慮します can. Steve Martin knew how to take advantage of this kind of humor, and in Japan, the manzai group Hibiki has made a career out of どうもすいませんでした (the line comes at 3:07). In all honesty, and I believe my teacher mentioned this, it’s a phrase that you should recognize but never feel obligated to use. A bit of keigo here and there is fine, but don’t be a keigo otaku.

Project Manager Lingo – 納品 & How to Engrish

When I joined my company in 2008, I started work on a Thursday. I figured that would give me a nice two day period to get used to things before I had to tackle a full week. After very little in terms of orientation or introduction, they had me busy with an intense check of some business reports for a steel company. On Friday at the end of the day, one of the three other project managers said, “Oh yeah, Daniel. You need to fill out your shoehole.”

Shoehole? I thought. OK, sure. What’s a shoehole? “Here I’ll forward you mine.” Oh, it’s a weekly report or something. Cool. I managed to use my coworker’s template to fill out the work I’d done and then send it to the right people.

For the next few weeks, I updated my “shoehole” file diligently, still kind of wondering what the hell “shoehole” meant. I thought maybe it was some kind of compartment where employees used to deposit written reports in the 19th century, a term lovingly carried up to the present day, that I had been unaware of for 27 years.

At some point I finally realized what “shoehole” actually meant – 週報 (しゅうほう), weekly report. I place some of the blame for this on my own idiocy and the other guy’s pronunciation, but a lot of it is due to the office attitude, which was (and still is) one of doing for others rather than helping others learn how to do a better job. I’d been saying “shoehole” to everyone for a few weeks…and not a single correction? Maybe expecting an explanation of 週報 is a little much, but 90% of what I’ve learned on the job has been trial and error. The other 10% has been from questions I asked others. No one, not even other project managers, has gone out of their way to make anything easier, and I’d even say that the way information is kept from employees makes things more difficult and provides no incentive to be creative or efficient.

So in response to the apparent interest in project management and freelance translation last week, I’ve decided to start introducing some project management vocabulary, hopefully to arm you all with information I wish people had taught me. These will be useful to translators as well, especially if you are trying to communicate with a Japanese project manager or client.

The first word is the most important – 納品 (のうひん). This is a complex way to say “deliver.”

翻訳をクライアントに納品しましたので、やっと帰れます!
I delivered the translation to the client, so I can finally go home!

今日納品が三つあって忙しい。
I’m busy today – I’ve got three deliveries to make.

Pretty simple once you get it down. The compound is in the pattern VERB + DIRECT OBJECT (品を納める) and combines the character for product (品, しな) with the multifaceted 納, which can mean send, pay, store, and settle, amongst others. It might help if you think of it as “take care of.” That covers a wide range of actions. As you can see from the above examples, it can be used as a noun or a verb.

(NOTE THAT IT DOES NOT MEAN DELIVERY OF TASTY THINGS LIKE PIZZA. That would be 配達.)

A similar and also very useful word is 納税 (のうぜい) which means, using my little hint, “take care of taxes” – pay taxes.

Today is also the debut of my new Japanese site – How to Engrish. Essentially it’s the exact opposite of this site. My goal is to practice writing Japanese and hopefully to make English easier for Japanese people to learn.

I’ve got the Japanese-English language pair covered. Now just to employ an army of linguists to cover every other possible combination. There’s no reason why learning a language should be so difficult – millions of people speak them without any difficulty whatsoever, and a little insight provided by a teacher in the student’s native language can have a great effect. Language study is not a competition, and we should all make an effort to be more understanding with learners: any language mistake diminishes me, because I am involved in language. (It’s still OK to laugh at mistakes though.)

I’ll be going through some major changes in the next few months, so I’ll only post once a week at How to Engrish, and I plan to cut my posts here at How to Japonese down to two a week for now (starting next week) and possibly one a week with the occasional 号外 post. 2010 is certainly turning into an exciting, aggressive year: keep your hands and feet inside the vehicle and secure all children and personal belongings.

That’s What All the Ladies Say

My understanding of だろう and でしょう are tenuous at best. I remember being puzzled by these when I took my first Japanese class – an intensive summer class, which I would not recommend (slow down, everyone, you’re moving too fast).

Two encounters have shaped my understanding of these phrases. Today, encounter one.

I was up in Fukushima, I think during my first year as a JET, watching TV. There was a small variety show where a host was interviewing different celebrities who came out one by one. After the host asked a few questions about the kind of work they did, the audience had to guess the celebrity’s annual income. One of the people on the show was パックン – Patrick Harlan, a Harvard grad who parlayed English teaching into Japanese study into fame as a manzai comedian. I don’t remember exactly what the host said to Pakkun, but he responded with a highly suggestive でしょう, which got a lot of laughs. I immediately noted the tone of his phrasing and added it to my mental catalog of funny phrases to use.

It felt like he was confirming something, just as you would with ですね, but this something was overly obvious and a little silly. A phrase you could substitute it with is the equally laugh-inducing よく言われます – literally, and extremely awkwardly, “That is often said about me.” I guess the English equivalent would be, “That’s what they all say.”

The tone on でしょう here is important – it’s slightly inquisitive with the hint of a smile. Amirite? でしょう?

Ode to っ

smalltsu

Tokyo Damage Report has a nice post taking a look at the 小さいつ and all its different roles. Very interesting stuff. He breaks it down into four categories. I’ll switch them up a bit:

3. Contractions. Put two kanji together, and often the sound between the characters gets contracted. Uninteresting, as he notes.

4. Emphasis. Now we start to get interesting. People add an extra syllable into words like とても and よほど to emphasize them. In English we tend to draw out vowels for emphasis, but in Japanese they hover on that moment riiiiiight at the beginning of the consonant and then hit that fucker with a wicked staccato. This theory works in the next two sets.

1. Onomatopoeia/り. I’m not sure that these words sound exactly like their actions (Is it possible to “sound” like “looking very similar,” which is what そっくり means? Although, maybe it is possible. Maybe the Japanese are just hyper-aware of the sounds of different actions. I guess they do have way more noises than English. Hmm…), but they are at least more aurally interesting than your average word. They also extend on the emphasis theory. The number of superlatives in the group is impressive. One I picked up from a friend is ごっつい, which I think means “huge.” I wonder if there are any XっXり words that haven’t been taken by meanings yet. Get ’em quick before some domain-name squatter can.

2. と. I believe all of the words in this category are adverbs, whereas the words in the り category can actually be verbs themselves. I guess that proves と is a nearly universal marker of adverb-ness? Again these are used to modify verbs and make them even more extreme.

I think the best way to get used to these is to not study them on their own; they almost always work with other verbs, and you should pick one or two for each pattern. Generally they only work with a very limited range of verbs anyway. さっぱり, for example, is used almost exclusively with 忘れる or 分からない, implying a complete blankness of mind.

The other trick is to figure out which ones work on their own (ばっちりです! そっくりです!) and which ones work with する (すっきりした! ).

Great stuff. My personal favorites are ばっちり (with uncomfortably dorky thumbs up), そっくり (I am ルパン) and こっそり (eating onigiri on the train).

Cool Prefix – ド

do

I can’t remember when I started noticing ド on TV, but whenever it was, the meaning was quickly apparent: people on TV, mostly comedians, use it as a prefix for nouns to emphasize the extremity of that noun. To be honest, I can’t even remember which usages I saw on TV. So it’s kind of a miracle, one of those language-learning miracles, that I am able to use it at all. What’s more, I believe I use it in ways that I’ve never even heard before. ド田舎 (the fuggin boonies) is probably my favorite, as it describes my pre-Tokyo Japan experience. ド真ん中 (right in the fuggin middle) is another good one.

I took it upon myself to look into the origins of the term and found this awesome blog post. Apparently ド級 referred to the dreadnought class of English battleship. Ships built later were referred to as 超ド級. But ど was used as a prefix in the Kansai area long before 1906 when the HMS Dreadnought first entered service. At some point they must have become interchangeable.

Google is an interesting way to look into the usage patterns here. Here are some of the results:

“ドM”              1,370,000
“ド田舎”         1,350,000
“ド素人”         973,000
“ど素人”         968,000
“ドS”               905,000
“ど真ん中”     786,000
“ド迫力”         428,000
“ど根性”         367,000
“ド真ん中”     238,000
“どM”              167,000
“ド根性”         151,000
“ど田舎”         147,000
“どまんなか” 134,000
“どS”               93,500
“ドアホ”         92,500
“ど迫力”         62,000
“どアホ”         21,500
“ドバカ”         2300
“ド高い”         2270
“どバカ”         1720
“ど馬鹿”         1670
“ド馬鹿”         1530
“ど暑い”         1500
“ど熱い”         870
“ドまんなか” 691
“ド熱い”         686
“ド暑い”         668
“ドうまい”     506
“ド上手い”     317
“ド厚い”         243
“ドかっこいい”  217
“ド危ない”         144
“ド格好いい”     85
“ドかっこういい”     0

(Searches from June 23, 2009)

Immediately interesting to me is that ド田舎 gets a TON of hits. I swear I never saw that one on TV. The other interesting thing to note is that there is almost no pattern of frequency between ド and ど; in some cases ド gets more hits but in the other cases ど gets more. On TV, I’ve only ever seen the katakana version, most likely because it is more angular and therefore seems harsher/funnier than ど. The only firm correlation is that ど・ド + noun is much more common that ど・ド + adjective.

M and S refer to masochistic and sadistic, two not-necessarily-sexual personality traits that the Japanese use. Put simply, M means you are more passive, and S means you are more aggressive.

Needless to say, this is an extremely casual phrase. I’m a big fan and try to throw it out there on occasion, but I’ll probably be less likely to use it now that I know it’s Kansai-ben. Don’t want to be one of those foreigners.

That first ド wasn’t big enough. Lemme try again:

bigdo

Stop the Misuse of Definite Articles!

I saw a traffic sign that read:

ストップ

死亡事故

This translates to:

Stop
the
traffic fatalities

Here is the Japanese pronunciation:

Sutoppu
za
shibou jiko

Come on, guys. Cut it out.

It is hilarious, though, to replace "traffic fatalities" with other Japanese words. I am just as bad as they are.

Originally posted May 6th, 2006