Cool Word – 場合

baai

I’m on the Japan Times Bilingual page this week: “In Japanese, mastery of the space-time continuum is just a few words away.”

The intro is inspired by my first ever trip to Japan—an internship with a propeller company. I was taken along on a visit to Misawa Homes, one of the big prefab housing companies in Japan. (Of course the propeller company did business with a modular homes company.) I also got to see model homes in a yet-to-be-populated subdivision. It’s impressive stuff.

The article is a bit heavy on the timing words, so I feel like I gave 場合 short shrift. It is the ultimate hypothetical word, one that can sit in for conditional verbs ending with たら or ば and one that doesn’t require you to perform any mental gymnastics with the verbs. Not that it’s all that difficult to construct the たら or ば forms, but 場合 only really needs the past or present tense.

The easiest way to think of it in English is “In the case of X,” where 場合 means “case.” This also works with constructions (suggested by this site) such as 外国人の場合. (The only proper response to which is “break glass,” I assume?)

I feel like I’ve tweeted out this Chiebukuro link before, but the pronunciation of 場合 is one of those few Japanese words that can vary a little. My first sensei pronounced it ばわい, which always stuck with me. I’ll use it every now and then.

Video Game Lingo – 始末

Fucking Ultros. I just got beat down in the opera house, and I’ve realized I probably either need to A) head back to Narshe and pick up another party member, B) hope that I can still add Shadow, or C) grind until I level enough to take the bastard down.

Which is basically to say that I haven’t made much progress in FFVI. I also haven’t found a seat on my commutes all that often. The El is unforgiving, especially between Sheridan and Fullerton, and I need at least one hand free when standing.

But I did come across this:

shimatsu

It pays to have a large vocabulary of words that mean “kill” or “destroy” when making video games, and 始末 is, effectively, one of those. In this case, the compound has the more general meaning “manage” or “deal with” (with an implied finality, thus death).

It’s also a cool kanji in its own right, combining two opposite characters for “beginning” (始) and “end” (末).

It has other meanings as well and confuses some with 仕末. This is a nice little blog post that concisely summarizes some of the frequently encountered forms:

「後始末」「跡始末」「始末書」「始末に負えない」などのように使います。

Fortunately for our heroes, Kefka isn’t that adept at dealing with them.

Cool Kanji – 語幹・語尾

Screen Shot 2014-10-05 at 9.03.15 AM

My latest column is in the Japan Times Bilingual page today: “Discovering verb stems: A gokan oasis in the desert of gobi

I address what was for me one of the most difficult adjustments to make during my first year of study: learning the ます形 form first only to have to get used to the 普通形 later. I distinctly remember wondering why they couldn’t just put the ます形 words in the dictionary.

I also remember the teachers mentioning things like あ行 and い行 when the consonant-stem verbs came up, but it was just too much information at the time, and the textbook we used—the infamous Jorden-Noda Japanese the Spoken Language—was dense as a motherfucker.

I wonder now if a focus on the difference between 語幹(ごかん) and 語尾 (ごび) earlier on, before students really even have the ability to understand them, would benefit students. As I mention in the article, I think it might be beneficial for students to learn this:

のま
のみ
のむ
のめ
のも

Rather than this:





Just repeat this out for all the different verb stems, and you’d have every kana covered, and the 行s might make more sense/feel more tangible to students.

Just a thought. I almost wish I had a masters in Japanese pedagogy and a class full of first-year students to experiment on…

Japanese Adverb POWER RANKINGS

oishiku

I have a new column up on the Japan Times: “Particles create the chemistry of adjectives and adverbs.”

I actually drafted a blog post along these lines (with the whole chemistry analogy) way, way, waaay back in the day (when I was posting thrice weekly) but lost it to a hard drive crash. I remembered it recently because I was thinking about おいしく.

I loved the way that my roommate used the word—I don’t think I’d ever heard it used that way before. A quick Google search shows 4 million plus hits for おいしそうに and only 618,000 for おいしく, so it is somewhat odd/infrequently used. Each of those could technically be translated as “deliciously,” depending on the context.

This all inspired me to put together a quick power rankings of Japanese adverbs. Here you have it:

5. 悔しく
4. 適当に
3. 早く
2. おいしく
1. ちょっと

I assume that 悔しく gets used? It’s one of my favorite adjectives, so I put it on the list. 適当に is another fave, and I’ve written about it in the past. 早く takes third mostly because I was imagining a whiny kid saying 母ーさん、早く〜(HAyaKUUUU). おいしく is wonderful, as I previously mentioned.

I think the reason why おいしく and perhaps 悔しく are so interesting as adverbs is that as adjectives they are more “performative” rather than “descriptive.” 悔しい is what someone says when something sucked. おいしい is what someone says when something is delicious. They are connected equally (if not more so) with the state of the partaker as with that of which is partaken; in other words, how the partaker feels having partaken (in something delicious or a shitty experience).

Other adjectives such as 暑い, 遅い, 静か, etc. are more objective and relate to the object only. Adjectives don’t always work this way in English: Saying “that was delicious,” while equally subjective, feels closer to my bowl of ramen than うまい or おいしい does. …if that makes any sense.

Of course, only ちょっと can be the number one. I love it because of its frequency and variety of use and because it is one exception to the beautiful uniformity of く and に adverbs.

Are there any others that I’m missing?

Cool Word – やけ酒

yakezake

I have another column in the Japan Times today: “Drinking in Japan: Sober words to help you socialize.” It’s a fun column with some of the words you might encounter at a drinking party with coworkers…and an equally useful set that might help you avoid such a drinking party – not exactly an easy thing to do in Japan.

Sadly I don’t have the artwork I wanted to include with this post. When I was studying abroad, I had a crush on this girl in the international exchange club. I never had much of a chance to get to know her or even interact with her all that much, but there was one time when we talked and she drew me a very simple cartoon vocab lesson. She drew two people drinking together and labeled it サシ飲み and a sad person drinking alone and labeled it やけ酒.

やけ酒 is one of those words that has such a specific usage that it generally draws laughs when used as hyperbole. I haven’t ever really had much of an occasion to drink away my sorrows, to be honest, but it’s fun to pretend sometimes. Two Saturdays ago, my San Antonio Spurs lost Game 3 of their series against the Dallas Mavericks in devastating fashion: 37-year-old Vince Carter hit a last-second corner three to end the game. My Japanese coworker texted me: “I’m sorry. Vince made a miracle shot!”

I texted back: “今夜はやけ酒です(ㄒ.ㄒ)”

His response was, “「やけ酒」is good word (笑)”

So, yes, use it for laughs, use it for real. Hopefully the former and not the latter.

As I was getting ready to write this post, I looked for that cartoon that the girl had drawn for me ten years ago, but I wasn’t able to track it down. I have two file folders of loose photos and letters, and I was hoping it was tucked away in there. Alas. It still might be in a book somewhere, but it’s likely I threw it away.

Which turns out to be appropriate…somewhat. Apparently there are kanji for やけ酒, and they look like this:

yakezake2

I’m not exactly a kanji master, but those look like ateji to me. Literally you have self (自) + throw away () + liquor (酒). The first two are a compound where 自 is the direct object and 棄 is the verb: “throw away/abandon yourself.”

The real pronunciation looks more evident from this compound: 自暴自棄 (じぼうじき). Very cool stuff – check out the Japanese definition here to see if you can understand it, and then take a look at the English here if it’s difficult.

The Spurs lost again tonight (Friday, 5/2), and I can’t sleep so I wrote this post. I’ll save the self-destructive drinking for tomorrow night.

Cool Word – 触れ合う

fureau

I’ve got another article in the Japan Times today: “Being laughed at can help your Japanese evolve.”

Two months in a row! I’m on a role. But long-time readers will notice that I’ve really just mined content from two of my favorite posts: The Apper-ative Tense (blatant misuse of the word “tense” there) and 笑われていいとも!

Yer getting lazy, Morales! I did add a pretty sweet metaphor with that caveman thing, though.

At any rate, I’ve been laughed at more recently. On my first day of work here in Chicago, the guy in the neighboring office came over to say hello and introduce himself. We talked, and I mentioned how I hadn’t had many opportunities to use Japanese in New Orleans: 日本人と触れ合う機会が非常に少なかった。

He paused for a moment and then, with an inquisitive look on his face, mimed hugging someone.

I had that momentary fear, that shiver of embarrassment, and I questioned whether or not I knew the actual meaning of 触れ合う (ふれあう). “Did I just say, ‘I didn’t have any opportunity to rub up on Japanese people?’” I wondered.

So I made a kind of disappointed face and then said, 変な日本語を使っちゃってすみません。To which he laughed.

But now I think he was just taking the piss. A quick check of the definition shows that ふれあう can mean “brush against,” but it can also mean exactly what I thought it meant: “interact with.” It’s one of those words that gets tossed around in organizations that do cultural work, and I remember it getting used a lot in my town when the Lithuanian artists-in-residence were there: They wanted to take advantage of the chance for kids to get involved with art and with foreigners.

So now I have to go back and reconsider what exactly it was that I said that day that was strange. Maybe it was my pronunciation. Or maybe he was just taking the piss.

I think this is the appropriate response to laughter: Pause, reevaluate, continue on. I didn’t let it get to me. I still talk with the guy, and I still talk with others. Whatever you do, don’t let a few silly mistakes force you back into the cave. The cave is dark and lonely and there is no Japanese.

Cool Compound – 確認

kakunin

I’ve got an article in the Japan Times today titled “Keep calm before carrying on when speaking Japanese.”

The idea for the article was prompted by a recent experience at work. One of my Japanese coworkers asked me to proofread an email—a request to meet with someone—and it was immediately apparent that the guy needed slow way down: He had jumped into the core of the request before doing the basics (e.g. introducing himself, saying where he works and what his role is).

When using a second language, it’s easy to fall into this trap. We get so focused on figuring out the linguistic gymnastics for whatever the main point is—which is important, because it is main, ya know—that we forget all the bells and whistles of language that help us sound ordinary. And sounding ordinary is what will give the listener the opportunity to understand what it is we want/what it is we want to say before we even ask/say it. It’s powerful.

確認(かくにん) is one of these words, and using it to presage a question gives your listener the ability to shift into a question-answering, information-providing mindset. Thinking back, I think I may have said ちょっと確認したいんですが more than any other phrase in Japanese. Highly recommended phrase.

The key is to stay mindful of your situation. Conversation is a give and take. What have you done today (in Japanese or in English) to help your listener understand what you are trying to communicate?

boy ≠ ボーイ

booi

Apologies for the lack of posts. They should hopefully resume at a more regular pace shortly now that I’ve 1) finished my graduate studies, 2) found a job (one that will keep me in contact with the Japanese language!), 3) moved to the city where I do that job, and 4) almost moved into an apartment in that city. Until Wednesday, I am living with my brother who, conveniently, also lives in that city.

[I’m not really trying to keep secrets. I moved to Chicago, the Windy City, which feels more poetic in Japanese: 風の街 (The City of Wind).]

I’m still working my way through Tazaki Tsukuru, and as I was reading today, I noticed an awesome 外来語 inequality. (MILD SPOILER ALERT: The example details one minor plot point from the new Murakami book.) Tazaki Tsukuru has arrived in Finland to track down a high school friend, and when he gets to his hotel, this happens:

ハンサムな金髪のボーイに案内され、クラシックなエレベーターに揺れられて、四階にある部屋に入った。

As you can see from the katakana, there are a number of foreign words, but “handsome,” “classic,” and “elevator” all match up pretty smoothly with their English equivalents. ボーイ on the other hand, varies a little more. This translation, for example, is a little off:

A handsome, blonde boy guided him into a shaky, caged elevator and up to his room on the fourth floor.

This makes much more sense, no?

A handsome, blonde bellboy guided him into a shaky, caged elevator and up to his room on the fourth floor.

Forget the fact that I’ve smoothed out the listed clauses and the fact that Tsukuru is the subject of every verb in the Japanese, and focus on how much more natural “bellboy” is in that sentence.

This word doesn’t really pass the Google Images test (at least not for ボーイ), but if you add ホテル, it becomes clear that ボーイ = bellboy in many if not most cases, in practical usage.

I love the long vowel here, although I admit that it’s mostly because it makes me think of Flava Flav: YEAHHHHHHH BOYYYYYYYYYYY!

Cool Compound – 静物画

Pages 15-22 are in the bag. This was my first time reading Japanese for about 4-5 months, and there has been noticeable deterioration in my kanji recognition skills. I noticed this at Japan Fest the other day when I wrote ヨ and thought to myself, hey, that looks like a backwards E. This is not a good sign.

When I was reading through these pages, 静物画 (せいぶつが) really stood out to me. I had to stare at 静 for a while to remember what it meant and how to pronounce it, but I knew from context and memory what it meant in Japanese – it’s hard to forget the initial elevator scene in Hard-Boiled Wonderland. Long, wind-up opening chapters became Murakami’s trademark with this novel, and nowhere is it more fun to read than here. We’re locked in boku’s Watashi’s consciousness and humor: he sees himself as a still life portrait in this strange elevator.

The compound 静物, a very cool homophone with 生物, follows the pattern ADJECTIVE + NOUN (still/quiet + thing) and is then attached to 画.

The good news is that I did not have to look this one up and was still able to rustle up the meaning and pronunciation. I wasn’t so lucky with 歩幅 (ほはば), a NOUN + NOUN compound. I blame this on the stupid compound 几帳面 (きちょうめん), which came a few sentences before and primed my brain to read any 巾 kanji as ちょう.

Cool Kanji – 爺 – Updated

I think I probably knew this kanji before, but in its grandfatherly お爺さん form; on its own, the pronunciation is じじい (which I discovered thanks to furigana in the book I was reading), and it means dirty old man. For whatever reason, when I was reading I found it very cool that a single character had three syllables in the pronunciation.

It’s a cool kanji in its own right – the character for father (父) right above the verb “to take” (取) the somewhat rare character that means question or father, making the easy mnemonic “Take this, old dad guy man! *heaves rotten tomato*” “Dad?”

But the kanji led me into the rabbit hole that is the おじいさん entry on Wikipedia. Did you know that おじいさん can refer to twelve distinct individuals? These are:

1. 父の父
2. 母の父
3. 夫の父の父
4. 夫の母の父
5. 夫の父の祖父
6. 夫の母の祖父
7. 妻の父の父
8. 妻の母の父
9. 妻の父の祖父
10. 妻の母の祖父
11. 1~2と同年代以上の高齢の男性
12. 1.や2.や11.などに相当する男性が使う自称

In translation:

1. One’s father’s father
2. One’s mother’s father
3. One’s husband’s father’s father
4. One’s husband’s mother’s father
5. One’s husband’s father’s grandfather
6. One’s husband’s mother’s grandfather
7. One’s wife’s father’s father
8. One’s wife’s mother’s father
9. One’s wife’s father’s grandfather
10. One’s wife’s mother’s grandfather
11. An elderly man of equal age or older than 1-2
12. A self-applied name used by a man who fits 1, 2, or 11

Whew…deep breath. The article goes on to explain some of the nuances of the word, comparisons with Chinese, and the fact that it can be used as a first person pronoun by old dudes when talking to young kids like their grandchildren. I can’t wait to be that crazy older uncle type and get all 爺d up.

Update: Fixed teh character issues with teh kanjiz. Also fixed the errors in 2 and 6 as pointed out by Arline. And I totally forgot to mention that the Wikipedia article also mentions that when おじいさん refers to family members, the kanji are お祖父さん.