Here’s a cool language thing I learned on TV and have heard used at work. I was watching Mecha-ike at some point and Okamura was joking about how much he wanted to be paid to do a certain job. (It may have been when he was doing the wedding MC “offer” [Sadly all the YouTube video links on that page are dead, but there is still explanation of different Mecha-ike skits, including “offers”].) He said he wanted to be paid 2並び (にならび). Fortunately for me there are tons of subtitles on Japanese TV and they displayed “￥22,222,” so I instantly knew that 2並び literally means “2 lined up.” Not lined up forever but in the basic Japanese counting unit – the ten thousand.
This works for any number: 11,111 (1並び), 22,222, 33,333 (3並び), 44,444 (4並び), 55,555 (5並び), etc all the way up to 9. Apparently we use it at work as a guarantee for narrators. Should we book a narrator for a job and then have the client cancel last minute, the narrator would still get their guarantee, which would be some number in this X並び format. Most excellent stuff.
I think the way Okamura used it is typical of the pattern – it’s a semi-arbitrary large amount of money but not always in the realm of impossibility.
I think the most interesting part is that in our society, it seems that round numbers are a lot more aesthetically pleasing. I mean, if I were negotiating a contract, I might think to offer or ask for $700 or $800 or maybe $750, but odds are I wouldn’t ask for $777. I wonder if that’s not the case in Japan, or if this is some kind of throwback to an older tradition or practice.
yeah, my friend was telling me about a study that showed where that practice of partitioning of time came in (western society), something to do with the invention of the wrist watch. unfortunately she broke up with my buddy and now I cant contact her, so I cant let you know the author of the study (just in case you were interested). but i think it has escaped us that we live our lives in blocks of even number, or 15 minute periods (for example). perhaps its conditioned on a school thing. my friend would say its a Foucaultian ‘govermentality’ thing, but we don’t need to get into post-modern stuff here haha.
So i say, next time you plan to meet up with your friends, suggest an odd minute time, say X:27 am/pm and see what they say. if they’re japanese your reply will probably be something like えっ？ けったいな外人やなあ。
assuming they’re from Kansai.
Thanks for that Daniel. well picked up!
also, does anyone know of any good online Japanese TV sites at all? the ‘tvinjapan’ site is down for the moment
ps. if i ever have bad grammar or spelling or punctuation or whatnot, i am sorry.
I can’t be the only one who still finds large numbers difficult to deal with in Japanese. I’ll be droning along happily about foreign policy or the need for reform of the political system in Japan, and then someone will ask me an awkward question involving big numbers. \What’s the population of the United States?\ or \How much does Barack Obama earn per year?\ Can you answer those questions in Japanese without having recourse to fingers, thumbs, and toes? I can’t. I start feeling like a fool, and have to fumble around for paper and pencil.
Personally, I think we ought to revert to a duodecimal system.
This is pretty cool. Thanks for pointing it out, because I probably would have been confused about it if I had encountered it on my own.
Blue Shoe, I’ve gotten the impression that the Japanese are also usually fond of rounded numbers, although a quick glance at the website of one of my favorite online stores shows me mostly ￥XX00 but with a few odd figures like ￥578 thrown in, so that’s not 100% correct, perhaps.
And the way dollar amounts get treated are amusing to me as well. Like the trick of charging $XX.99 or $XX.95 so that it seems at a glance like it’s a dollar cheaper. And gas prices usually take that figure to a third decimal place. XD
Lord Melbourne, I have the same problem even with small numbers sometimes. I’ll be listening to the conversation just fine, and then someone spouts off a figure and I find my brain tuning out. Of course if you gave me an odd figure in English I’d probably be almost as unlikely to remember it. Humans only have a certain buffer for remembering digits and letters, which is part of the reason most of our important numbers (Telephone, credit card, SSN, etc) are broken up into sets usually no larger than 4-5.
Of course, I can’t omit the possibility that I’m just terribly forgetful. ;D
PS, it just occured to me after I posted that comment that I was misunderstanding the last bit. The conversion between Chinese grouping of numbers and Western numerals, is what you were referring to. I apologize for my mental mixup there. :/
Coco – なるほど！だから並びにするんですね！
Coco just made an excellent point. The Japanese comment up there says that the reason why this pattern is used for guarantees (especially for freelancers) is that 10% of the money will always go toward tax. What’s 10% of 22,222 yen? 2222 yen, which would leave the freelancer with exactly 20,000 yen! This is the same for every other number in this format. Accounting for tax, they are all a flat number. Awesome! すごい勉強になりました！コメントありがとうございます！Ha, so I guess it’s far more practical and much less arbitrary than I initially thought.
I agree that big Japanese numbers are hard to get used to. I think the only way to really get used to them is to actually make a ridiculous amount of money. Then you’d have a vested interest in being able to understand them. That or financial translation, which would also give you some serious reps working with the numbers.
Eugh, if there is one thing that scares me more than ridiculously long katakana words, then it has to be ridiculously long numbers. This is a neat twist of the language that is definitely worth knowing. Muchas.