Junior year of college the chemistry of my Japanese class was a little poor. Maybe we were all too quiet or not confident with the language at that point, but eventually the professor started marking a participation grade each day. That definitely helped force us to talk. Looking back, I’m really glad she did that. She not only forced us to talk, she made us converse with each other, adding the appropriate 相づち (gestures, noises), which are actually quite important in Japanese. えっと, あのう, そうですね and あそうですか are all vital and will prevent a decent amount of discomfort on the part of your Japanese conversation partners. Part of learning any foreign language is learning these finer details. The hmming, ahhing, ohhing, mooing, and whawazzating.
Today I’ll be talking about the last of these today, which in Japanese is っけ.
It’s a conversational 文末 (sentence ending) expression that turns whatever comes before it into a self-addressed, monologue-y question. It’s beautifully efficient.
When I first learned it, I remember thinking that it was only ever used with the informal copula – だ and だった. But I catch myself using it with the formal copula (です, でした), and just recently heard a teacher use it with a regular old verb when he misplaced his chopsticks – 箸、どこに置いたっけ.
He had removed the saran wrap from his delivery katsudon, gotten up to fill up a mug of instant miso soup with hot water, and returned to his seat only to realize that he had misplaced his chopsticks. “Now where did I put those chopsticks…” he said to himself.
So, I guess you can attach っけ on to anything, really, but you most often hear it after the copula. 何だったっけ and 何だっけ are favorite phrases of Japanese students who can’t remember the answer to something (“Ah crap…what was it again?”).
In English, you could almost just translate it as “again”:
What was his/her name again?
When did the Taisho Era start again?
By far, the most frequently used expressions are 何だっけ and 何だったっけ.
The speaker has some vague idea about what he is asking, but can’t recall it at the moment. That’s what っけ expresses.
The winner this week is Aleisha with her answer: "where did I put those chopsticks that I set down."
I had only one other answer. It was from Thomas, who said: “okay, so, clearly this statement was made by a burgeoning civil engineer, mumbled to herself at her desk.”
But he didn’t leave it at that, he wrote a 450-word short story. Here’s a piece:
it was late at night, nearly 1:30am, and all of naomi’s classmates had gone home. two lights clipped to the corners of her workbench provided the only illumination, two bright spots of white shining on the drafting paper spread out before her. the light was oblique enough that the weight of the paper was apparent– the thick grain showing shadowy textures beneath the brightly colored legos she had scattered about.
While it addresses the wrong はし, the っけ usage is appropriate ("okay," she said, focusing on the legos, her determination piqued once more. "bridge, where did i put you?"), and I believe it calls for an effort beer.