Cool Phrase – 〜もんか

monka I’ve got an article in the Japan Times Bilingual page today about the very interesting little particle か: “‘Ka’ can help you sound less like Mr. Roboto.”

For the most part か is harsh and striking (いいか?); it demands attention. This is especially true when compared with が, its softer more demure cousin (ちょっと聞きたいんですが). But I think the article points out a couple of places where maybe か can take the edge off and sounds very natural.

One of my favorite usages of the harsh and sharp か is 〜もんか. The quintessential example of this usage is 知るもんか. The English translation is “Like I know!” with an implied element of “(So why would you ask me/expect me to know?)” This is a great phrase but useful only in circumstances where you’re trying to express disbelief in the person you’re talking with; thus, it’s a fairly rude phrase.

You can attach it to a lot of different verbs to express your disbelief that you would ever do those verbs or that something would ever happen. そういうことやるもんか。そんなことあるもんか。

A Google search turns up a movie titled なくもんか which, judging from its poster, means something along the lines of “I’m not crying *sob*.”

A fun phrase, useful to deploy in certain circumstances.

On a side note, I can share a bit of good news: Barring grievous bodily injury or total mental collapse, I should be in the Japan Times Bilingual page every month this year, the first week of the month. Look for me there, and thanks for reading.

Cool Particle – で – Conjunction

Clearly Treyvaud’s で from the previous post (about で as implier of causality) wasn’t pure causality. The girl was just taking a break from her story, so the invisible それ in front of the で refers to the entirety of the story so far. Not a specific cause and effect relationship per se.

A large part of で’s role comes as a conjunction, a transition between two thoughts. To a certain extent, で is always conjunctive – it connects two different phrases or ideas within a phrase by describing why something was done – and only the level of causality changes.

The clear English equivalent is “so.” It’s surprising how similar these are. Not only do they both act as conjunctions, but the level of causality they both imply also varies. So, to a certain extent, Treyvaud’s で is asking, “So now that you’ve laid out all this juicy conspiracy goodness, WTF mate? What happens next? What does what you’ve just explained lead to?” But in reality, it’s just a word that enables a smooth transition to the next thought.

You see this used a lot in spoken Japanese. If someone is telling a really long, winding story that, rather than resolving itself, continues to take turn after turn, that person and the listener could have the following conversation:

Teller: でー
Listener: で?
T: でー
L: で?(笑)
T: で、

Which you could translate into English as:

Teller: So–
Listener: So?
T: So–
L: So where the hell is this going?! Heh.
T: I’m about to fuggin tell you if you’d let me finish.

Maybe that’s taking it a bit far, but you get the point. You can imply all that good stuff by interrupting with a single particle, a smile, and a good laugh.

The other conjunctive role of で is when you use it to stack up clauses, mostly when speaking. For example,

会社が新橋で、アパートが国分寺で、通勤がちょっとつらい。My company’s in Shimbashi, and my apartment is in Kokubunji, so my commute is a little unpleasant.

To me, the “so” feels like it implies slightly more causality than the で after 国分寺. I believe in cases like the above, で is the gerund form of です, so you can continue almost without end as you can with verbs sometimes:

6時に起きて、シャワー浴びて、朝食食べて、家出て、電車乗って... I woke up at six, took a shower, ate breakfast, left my place, got on the train…

Keep your ears open for this で (and verbs in gerund form playing the same role) and I promise you’ll start to hear it more often. And the more you recognize it and what it is doing, the easier it will be to use it yourself. Now go forth and conjunct!

Cool Particle – で – Causality

My brothers came for a visit over the holidays, and we had a small 手巻き寿司 party in their honor. One of my roommates brought his genki new girlfriend, and she brought her own even genkier girlfriend who is extremely interested in conspiracy theories. I don’t know how the subject came up, but it turns out that Treyvaud, also in attendance, is a descendant of a freemason. When she learned this, genki girlfriend’s genkier girlfriend got really excited and proceeded to explain an elaborate conspiracy theory only to be distracted midway through by a particularly tasty-looking slice of maguro.

When she finished eating, Treyvaud prompted her to continue her story with a simple, little で? It was awesome – so simple but perfect for the situation and extremely effective. She then said, “で…” and then continued her story.

This is a great example of the two different roles of で – conjunction and implier of causality.

Today let’s look at how it implies causality. The most common examples are ので and それで。 They have essentially the same role, but ので works between two clauses in a single sentence whereas それで begins a new sentence. Observe:

I drank lots of beer, so I became tired.

In more natural English: I got tired because I drank a lot of beer. (It’s tempting to maintain Japanese sentence order when you first start translating, and I’ve produced some embarrassing examples myself, but I think it’s fine to flip stuff around BECAUSE ENGLISH IS A DIFFERENT LANGUAGE.)

A couple of usage notes:

– You may be familiar with から in a similar role. (ビールをいっぱい飲んだから、眠くなった。) They are very similar. The main difference, according to my Japanese teacher in college, is that ので is more polite than から and should be preferred when talking to people more えらい than your measly self.

– After verbs, all you need is ので, but after nouns you should use なので. For example: 月曜日なので、仕事に行かなくてはならない。 I’s Monday, so I gotta work.

– In spoken Japanese, ので often gets slurred to んで. Example: 明日するんで、心配するな。I got that shit covered tomorrow, yo, so just chill.

And the それで variety:

If you don’t use them, compensatory vacation days expire after three months. So I’m thinking of taking a half day off next Wednesday and going to see a movie.

In both cases, the で acts as a police officer blowing his whistle and pointing an accusatory arm to the left. This! This is why that stuff to the right is happening!

Let us speak of で’s conjunctive abilities next time.