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?


A reminder that you still have a week to answer last week’s puzzle. In addition to a beer to the winner, I’ll give out Google Wave invites to all correct answers.

Also, Doug let me know that there is another way to refer to clockwise for the puzzle from two weeks ago – 泥棒回り (どろぼうまわり). Literally, “thief-wise.” Yahoo Dictionary says this is the nomenclature for taking turns in a game when seated in a circle. It goes from left to right, or clockwise, because when wearing Japanese clothes, a thief would have to reach into someone’s kimono from the right moving toward the left. There’s a great little passage about 右前 in the 和服 Wikipedia article. Not too difficult – good reading practice with lots of new words.

Cool Kanji – 肉


肉 (にく) – the character for meat. It always reminds me of a ribcage or a little rack of lamb or something. Maybe a bizarro chicken tulip.

The concept of meat in Japan is slightly different from that in the U.S. Here, to the great collective unhappiness of all vegetarian expats, it refers to mammal meat – beef and pork, mostly – and not the flesh of living things in general (at least when talking about food). So, saying you don’t eat meat (肉は、食べません) won’t always earn you a meal that meets (har har) your dietary restrictions, especially if you take into account broths and pastes and flakes (many of which are fish-based).

(On a side note, I once knew a “vegetarian” who ate ramen and just gave away the チャーシュー on top – what a joke! Ramen broth is, more or less, pig rendered into a delicious liquid form.)

When I was a CIR on JET, I was forced to explain strict vegetarianism to Japanese people for expats on a number of occasions. (Including one Lithuanian artist who wouldn’t eat mushrooms for some reason. His English was really bad, but from what I could gather, spores are little people.) I found the best way to explain it is to say that you don’t eat 動物 (どうぶつ, doubutsu) – animals in general. But even that was not general enough sometimes, so I would always bastardize the pronunciation to 動き物 (うごきもの, ugokimono) – things that move – and then add the sentence, 動くのなら、食べません. If it moves on its own (and not in search of photons to photosynthesize), they don’t eat it. This always gets the point across and makes people laugh as an added bonus.

~ている – Stative Gerunds

現在進行形 is the name of the tense (present progressive in English). You’re probably well familiar with this pattern. 食べています (tabete imasu). 飲んでいます (nonde imasu). Eating stuff. Drinking stuff. Doing stuff in general.

But I was reminded last week by 落ち着いている that you have to be careful with this pattern in Japanese because the same construction can be used as stative description depending on the verb. One of the best examples of this is the phrase 変わっている. This should not be translated as “is changing.” If something is 変わっている it means it is “in a changed state,” i.e. it is strange or weird. This is often used to describe quirky, unusual people.

You have to be vigilant not to fall into this traps. I recently had to pull myself out of one. In the Murakami story “The Town and Its Uncertain Wall,” there is a short introduction where the narrator meditates on the uncertainty and ineffectiveness of words:






I initially translated that last line as “And the next moment words are dying.” But it actually should be “And the next moment words are in the state of being dead”; in other words, “words are dead.” This passage is interesting because you have three different conjugations of the verb die: 死ぬ (shinu), 死んでいく (shinde iku), and 死んでいる (shinde iru). Here is the translation I ended up with:

There are too many things I want to say and too few things that I am able to say.

And to make matters worse, words die.

Every second words are dying. Words die in alleyways, in attics, in the wilderness, and in waiting rooms at stations with the collar on their coat turned up.

Excuse me, sir! The train is here!

And the next moment, words are dead.

I guess if you wanted to be more dramatic and read into it a little you could go with “Every second words are uttered and then go off to their death” for 死んでいく. Anyone have other ideas?

If you are trying to say “is changing” you should probably say 変化している (or possibly 変身している), or you could bust out some ところ action and say 変わっているところ.

Other frequently used examples are:
開いている。 It’s open.
閉まっている。 It’s closed.
冷えている。 It’s chilled (and ready to drink).

Maintain gerund vigilance.

Monday Puzzle – Identify This

The puzzle this week is to identify what is in this picture:


Anyone who has lived in or visited Japan should recognize this, so the real challenge this week is to give me the official Japanese name and one additional name (two different names total). Earn your beer with a little research.

The prize if you win? One can of 100% barley malt beer – e.g. Ebisu, Suntory Malts, Asahi Premium. (New rule: you must physically track me down and demand your beer to redeem it.)

Please do not post your answer in the comments. Send it to me via email or facebook. My email address is るぱんさんせい (romanized) at-mark gmail dot com.

Monday Puzzle – What the clock are you talking about?! – Answer

A simple answer to a simple puzzle – you can say clockwise with 外回り and counterclockwise with 内回り when you’re referring to a loop train line. This works because like cars, trains always go on the left side of the “road” in Japan. Yamanote Line stations often have these signs:

clock1 clock2

clock3 clock4

And I’ve been told that the 大阪環状線 also uses this terminology.

A couple of right answers this week, and the winner by coin flip is Karla. Congrats. Claim your beer when you will!