Cool 擬態語 – べたべた

I work at a university writing center helping students (mostly first years) with their essays, and back in February a Japanese couple came on a grant to study writing centers in the U.S. Apparently they run the writing center for exchange students studying Japanese at a university in Shizuoka. The writing center is young, so they were looking for ways to improve their tutoring approaches. (They have some of the same problems – the same kids come in, they make the same mistakes – but I feel like Japanese composition is in a very different place, so I don’t think all of our suggestions made sense to them. Anyone have any thoughts?)

I reported for work earlier than normal so I could interpret if need be, but she was actually quite proficient in English. She also seemed to be ハーフ, but I never asked, so I’m not certain. They brought their kids with them (all four of them, two of them toddlers and one an infant), and the husband took them off for a walk in the morning, but they came back for lunch. My boss had the tutors who were free sit in her office and answer the couple’s questions while we snacked on pasta and king cake, the seasonal New Orleans cake that is served from Twelfth Night to Mardi Gras Day.

King cake is short, ring-shaped cinnamon cake that is covered with sticky icing and sugar. The kids ate some, too, and when one of the toddlers finished, she started smacking her fingers together and saying べたべた. I laughed; the kid was so damn cute, and even though I hadn’t heard the word for a while, I knew exactly what she was saying – the King Cake was sticky.

That’s all I’ve got today. I’ve been meaning to write up this story because I don’t think I’ll ever forget べたべた again. Blue Shoe’s post about じょりじょり reminded me that I’d been meaning to write about べたべた. He wrote that じょりじょり is the sound of “a scratchy surface.” The word was vaguely familiar, and I had to really work my memory banks to figure out where I’d heard it. I realized that I was shaving my head when I studied abroad in Tokyo. Once, shortly after I shaved my head, I went to teach an English class, and my students were all like ああ、ダニエル、じょりじょり!

I wanted to know where it came from, so I plugged it into Yahoo Dictionary, which gives this definition:


So Blue Shoe is close – it’s actually the sound of shaving (or perhaps cutting) hair or facial hair. Kind of like “buzz” in English. My students were saying “Daniel, you buzzed your head!” じょりじょり, most excellent.

(The Yahoo example sentence uses a cool word I was unfamiliar with: 襟足 (えりあし), the nape of the neck.)

7 thoughts on “Cool 擬態語 – べたべた

  1. Without knowing the students who need the tutoring, I think one of the best practices I started with my own students was to have them start writing in a journal everyday.

  2. You work in a university writing center? That’s cool – so did I, before becoming an ALT. Small world. Man, I’d be interested to see the similarities and differences at a Japanese writing center.

    Cool story. Memories like those are great for adding a context to elements of a foreign language for better retention, aren’t they? And yeah, Japanese kids are adorable.

    Actually I looked up the definition on Yahoo, too, when I was making that post. I think that’s the “more correct” meaning, you’re right. My girlfriend always says “jori jori” when she rubs my stubble, though, so maybe it can be used in that way, too.

  3. sixmats – Yeah, keeping a journal is key. Getting that repetition is so important. I guess what I was really thinking (but didn’t quite express) is what are the theories of composition that Japanese students learn? I’m taking classes on teaching writing now, and one of the key things we focus on – and practice in the writing center – is ignoring the mechanical errors and grammatical mistakes until the student has his/her thoughts in order. Rather than point out every frickin comma mistake, we focus on what they are trying to say and help them get that in order. (And, really, what’s the point of fixing minor errors if the whole paragraph needs to be cut?) This is just my intuition, but I don’t think that’s how Japanese students learn how to write and revise their own writing. So I’m curious to know how they do learn composition in Japan.

    Blue Shoe – Yeah, I think she does that because it looks/feels like you just “buzzed” your facial hair. Very interesting that in actual usage it seems more like an adjective than an adverb.

  4. If the way Japanese people typically seem to learn English is any indication, I’d say you’re right. That’s the kind of training I received for working as a writing tutor, too. If you can improve the particular essay/paper that you’re looking at, great, but the main goal is to improve the tutee’s overall writing.

    Actually, when I was in university at that job, I had some Japanese friends writing term papers and they asked for help. They actually told me that in Japan they didn’t really learn how to write, even in Japanese, so writing formal papers was very difficult for them.

  5. When I learned えりあし, I was told that it was considered the sexiest part of a woman’s body, in Japan. Since then I’ve found the word hard to forget.

  6. Your friend might have confused じゃりじゃり with しゃりしゃり, perhaps? しゃりしゃり is the sound your feet make when you’re half dragging, half shuffling your feet across the ground. Kind of like those hot days when you’re just too tired to really pick up your feet.

    My boyfriend would tell me his facial hair was じょりじょり as well. He might have used another word though so I’ll have to ask him.

    I love giongo and the images it conveys but I think they are the most difficult thing to remember. Perhaps remember a story behind the ones I’ve learned is the best way to retain those words.

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