Airbag Expressions 3

I’ve talked about how Airbag Expressions can be used to ask for something and also how they can be used to breach a topic. I also wrote about emailing with Japanese people and how stating your name is almost like an Airbag Expression. Here are a few more Airbag Expressions.

The following three Airbag Expressions are stronger that the rest I’ve introduced: 正直(しょうじき)に言うと, はっきり言えば, and 強いて(しいて)言えば. These all warn that you are about to state a frank and honest opinion, which is often frowned upon in Japan. You have been warned.

正直に is an adverb meaning “honestly,” and 言う is “to say,” so in English this is something like, “To be (perfectly) honest, ~ .” You might say something like 「正直に言うと、東京より田舎のほうが住みやすいと思います。」 “To be honest, I think it’s easier to live in the countryside than in Tokyo.”

はっきり means “clear” and 言えば is a conjugation of 言う, which you could translate as “If I were to say” or “When I say it.” If we make that into more Englishy English, we might use “To put it clearly” or “To say it straight.” I always remember this line from the movie Tampopo. The two drivers try Tampopo’s ramen at the beginning of the movie, and when she asks them what they think, the cowboy hems and haws, but Ken Watanabe comes straight out and says 「はっきり言えば、まずいです。」

The final phrase is the strongest of all. I’m sure many of you recognize the character 強 from the adjective つよい. Well, it’s also used in the verb しいる. This verb is used in its gerund form to modify 言う, just like はっきり and 正直に. To be honest, I’m not quite sure what the verb 強いる means on its own, but it’s always perfectly clear what 強いて言えば means from context – 「強いて言えば、日本の英語教育が冗談(じょうだん)みたいです。」A quick Google search reveals this blog entry with the title 「強いて言えばココがヘンだよ!」

All of these phrases function grammatically in a very similar way to the previous Airbag Expressions, but they are warning people of something different and, depending on what kind of opinions you have, perhaps more shocking. Careful about which opinions you are revealing, but if you are going to reveal them, use one of these.