Green Goddess


I’m in The Japan Times today with an article about the wonderful Green Goddess dictionary: “When translation gets tough, bow to the ‘Green Goddess’

If you have the cash, I think it would probably be best to buy a digital version or the 2003 5th Edition, but if you’re a poboy like I was back in 2005 when I picked up my copy, then the 1974 4th Edition is available used on Amazon Japan for extremely reasonable prices.

When I wrote the article, the GG was going for 243 yen plus shipping. As I write this post, there are copies available for 1 yen (with 257 yen for shipping). At that price, it’s worth picking up one just to be a completionist. (Sadly the cheapest one that will ship to the U.S. is quite pricey at over 9,000 yen, so don’t ask me how to get it abroad. Shipping is generally very fast in Japan, so perhaps you could have it shipped to a hotel the next time you visit Japan.)

I mention a couple of times the GG helped me out with a recent translation contest in the article, but just for fun I’ll pick an appropriate entry and compare it with the WWWJDIC and Eijirō offerings.

After a couple of missed starts, I found an entry that I think shows the strengths of the GG: 情け.


It starts by listing the meanings of the word and provides Japanese definitions of those meanings to reinforce the different possibilities.

It then goes on to list common usages divided up by grammatical usage. It feels very organized (obvs.) compared to the Eijirō version. And the definition is so sparse.

Yes, it’s hefty, but it’s very helpful. Highly recommended.

Cool Greeting – おす


I’m in The Japan Times this week: “Jiko-PR gives job seekers a rare chance to brag in Japanese.”

Ostensibly I introduce some 自己PR verbiage, but I really just wanted a chance to talk about エール, which is one of my favorite Japanese words because it feels kind of funny/awkward as a Japanese version of “yell.” (Although not so strange when you think of it as “ale.”)

(This would also make an excellent entry into my series of inequalities: エール ≠ yell, not really.)

Apparently the Japanese native checker at the JT wasn’t sure about my description of the エール, which is a pep rally-type cheer for a team/individual, and after sleuthing on YouTube a bit, I’m starting to realize that エール are different everywhere. I also realized I left out an important element of the cheer at the school where I worked.

The word I left out is おす. Kotobank has a great definition:


When I was at the propeller company (search: propeller), I remember all of the factory guys saying おす/おっす in the morning (when I 出会ったd them on the 道, clearly) and me having no idea what they were talking about. I didn’t have the confidence to imitate them, so I just went with the standard おはようございます and vaguely thought that maybe おはようございます = おはようございます? Which was exactly right, if this dictionary is to be trusted:


It probably would have been fine to use おす with the factory guys, but not with my coworkers in the design section, who didn’t have to sweat nearly as much as those guys.

The おす in the エール also acted as a greeting of sorts. The エール went like this:

1. おす! (Deliverer bows to receiver.)
2. これから_____(team name, individual surnameの/のために)エールを送る!
3. フレー(right arm extended diagonally into air)! (Audience claps three times.) フレー (left arm extended diagonally into air)! (Audience claps three times.)
4. __ __ __ / __ __ __ __ (three- or four-syllable identifier: school name, individual surname/given name, team name; arms bent from elbow in multiple directions along with syllable)!
5. (Deliverer lowers arms to middle of body and then raises them slowly as audience yells, rising in volume, kind of generally in anticipation of the core part of エール)!
6. ウィンウィン__ __ __ / __ __ __ __! (repeated three times by all)
7. (Primal scream with lunge and arm extended forward)!
8. おす! (Deliverer bows to receiver.)

The おす was bread for the エール sandwich, as it were.

So I’m curious about what kind of エール you have witnessed. What were the procedures? When were they used?

In addition to pep rallies, エール were given for departing teachers in the privacy of a 送別会. Generally a fellow teacher in same subject/department was called upon to deliver the cheer. It was a lot of fun to participate by chanting ウィンウィン along with the deliverer, and I secretly always wanted to have the chance to try one but was also relieved I never had to.

Alas, such is the life of an extroverted introvert. Japan’s codified rituals, including エール, can make this easier for some of us, I believe, because they provide more clearly coded social actions.

I Heard That – 別件


The new guy at work is a loud talker, and he often powwows with the guy in the office next to mine, which has been a huge boon for my I Heard That strategy. It’s difficult to tell exactly what they’re talking about, but I do get the drift of some conversations, and it’s impossible not to take in (at least subconsciously) the rhythm of the language.

I caught a great piece of language the other day. The two of them had been talking about something and then the loud talker said 全然別件なんですが to change the subject.

This is a great little phrase, one that I would categorize as a type of Airbag Phrase. The original Airbag Phrases help cushion requests, but on their most basic level they act as preparatory transitions that help the listener understand what is going to happen next in the conversation. I always feel like a Jedi when I use them: These aren’t the droids you’re looking for.

別件 (べっけん) is a nice compound that follows the Na-nominal + Noun pattern: 別 a separate 件 topic.

Readers should recognize 全然 (ぜんぜん) as an adverb that usually precedes negative adjectives and verbs and implies “not ____ at all” or “completely not ____”: 全然おもしろくない (not interesting at all), 全然おいしくない (not delicious at all), etc.

In casual situations, 全然 gets attached to positive adjectives and verbs to express a good totality: 全然大丈夫 (totally okay), 全然平気 (completely fine), etc. When I was studying abroad, one of my Japanese friends told me that she knew my Japanese was getting good because I used 全然 in this context. It sounds very natural but is relatively casual, so I’d recommend not using it with superiors. Loud talker happens to be the superior to the guy in the office next to mine, so it works out okay, but I doubt that he would use it with his own boss.

In this case 全然 gets attached to 別件 to imply how drastically different the next conversation topic is. I think this is an especially useful phrase for Japanese as a Second Language students; phrases like this will make your speaking seem more natural and less like surrealist poetry, jumping willy nilly from one topic to the next.

Pre-JET Japanese Triage

I gave a short crash course on Japanese for departing JETs at the Consulate-General of Japan at Chicago yesterday, and I thought I would post the handout I gave everyone and add a few links and explanations. The goal of the presentation was to prepare the JETs for schools and classrooms, give them some ideas about how to make requests and say no (two notoriously difficult and delicate things), and to put them in the right mindset to study Japanese.

Pre-JET Japanese Triage Notes.docx

(I can’t get the embedder to work, so here’s a link to the file for now.)

A couple of notes:

I was asked after the presentation whether お+stem+になります is still viable keigo. It absolutely is. The only reason I didn’t include it in the presentation was to simplify things. I think one of the reason keigo seems so difficult at first is because noobs (including myself, long ago) sometimes have difficulty remembering whether to use お+stem+します or お+stem+になります at the moment when you are finally asked to use your keigo. Knowing that passive is an alternative is an easy way to not mess it up. But obviously お+stem+になります is also handy and should eventually be incorporated into your repertoire.

I also shared a few thoughts on teaching at elementary school, so I wanted to be sure to include the link to my videos over at danierusensei on YouTube. 33 different videos for activities you can use in the classroom. Hopefully this allows you to go into the elementary school classroom more prepared than I was.

Cool Word – 場合


I’m on the Japan Times Bilingual page this week: “In Japanese, mastery of the space-time continuum is just a few words away.”

The intro is inspired by my first ever trip to Japan—an internship with a propeller company. I was taken along on a visit to Misawa Homes, one of the big prefab housing companies in Japan. (Of course the propeller company did business with a modular homes company.) I also got to see model homes in a yet-to-be-populated subdivision. It’s impressive stuff.

The article is a bit heavy on the timing words, so I feel like I gave 場合 short shrift. It is the ultimate hypothetical word, one that can sit in for conditional verbs ending with たら or ば and one that doesn’t require you to perform any mental gymnastics with the verbs. Not that it’s all that difficult to construct the たら or ば forms, but 場合 only really needs the past or present tense.

The easiest way to think of it in English is “In the case of X,” where 場合 means “case.” This also works with constructions (suggested by this site) such as 外国人の場合. (The only proper response to which is “break glass,” I assume?)

I feel like I’ve tweeted out this Chiebukuro link before, but the pronunciation of 場合 is one of those few Japanese words that can vary a little. My first sensei pronounced it ばわい, which always stuck with me. I’ll use it every now and then.

Video Game Lingo – 始末

Fucking Ultros. I just got beat down in the opera house, and I’ve realized I probably either need to A) head back to Narshe and pick up another party member, B) hope that I can still add Shadow, or C) grind until I level enough to take the bastard down.

Which is basically to say that I haven’t made much progress in FFVI. I also haven’t found a seat on my commutes all that often. The El is unforgiving, especially between Sheridan and Fullerton, and I need at least one hand free when standing.

But I did come across this:


It pays to have a large vocabulary of words that mean “kill” or “destroy” when making video games, and 始末 is, effectively, one of those. In this case, the compound has the more general meaning “manage” or “deal with” (with an implied finality, thus death).

It’s also a cool kanji in its own right, combining two opposite characters for “beginning” (始) and “end” (末).

It has other meanings as well and confuses some with 仕末. This is a nice little blog post that concisely summarizes some of the frequently encountered forms:


Fortunately for our heroes, Kefka isn’t that adept at dealing with them.

Cool Kanji – 語幹・語尾

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My latest column is in the Japan Times Bilingual page today: “Discovering verb stems: A gokan oasis in the desert of gobi

I address what was for me one of the most difficult adjustments to make during my first year of study: learning the ます形 form first only to have to get used to the 普通形 later. I distinctly remember wondering why they couldn’t just put the ます形 words in the dictionary.

I also remember the teachers mentioning things like あ行 and い行 when the consonant-stem verbs came up, but it was just too much information at the time, and the textbook we used—the infamous Jorden-Noda Japanese the Spoken Language—was dense as a motherfucker.

I wonder now if a focus on the difference between 語幹(ごかん) and 語尾 (ごび) earlier on, before students really even have the ability to understand them, would benefit students. As I mention in the article, I think it might be beneficial for students to learn this:


Rather than this:

Just repeat this out for all the different verb stems, and you’d have every kana covered, and the 行s might make more sense/feel more tangible to students.

Just a thought. I almost wish I had a masters in Japanese pedagogy and a class full of first-year students to experiment on…

Japanese Adverb POWER RANKINGS


I have a new column up on the Japan Times: “Particles create the chemistry of adjectives and adverbs.”

I actually drafted a blog post along these lines (with the whole chemistry analogy) way, way, waaay back in the day (when I was posting thrice weekly) but lost it to a hard drive crash. I remembered it recently because I was thinking about おいしく.

I loved the way that my roommate used the word—I don’t think I’d ever heard it used that way before. A quick Google search shows 4 million plus hits for おいしそうに and only 618,000 for おいしく, so it is somewhat odd/infrequently used. Each of those could technically be translated as “deliciously,” depending on the context.

This all inspired me to put together a quick power rankings of Japanese adverbs. Here you have it:

5. 悔しく
4. 適当に
3. 早く
2. おいしく
1. ちょっと

I assume that 悔しく gets used? It’s one of my favorite adjectives, so I put it on the list. 適当に is another fave, and I’ve written about it in the past. 早く takes third mostly because I was imagining a whiny kid saying 母ーさん、早く〜(HAyaKUUUU). おいしく is wonderful, as I previously mentioned.

I think the reason why おいしく and perhaps 悔しく are so interesting as adverbs is that as adjectives they are more “performative” rather than “descriptive.” 悔しい is what someone says when something sucked. おいしい is what someone says when something is delicious. They are connected equally (if not more so) with the state of the partaker as with that of which is partaken; in other words, how the partaker feels having partaken (in something delicious or a shitty experience).

Other adjectives such as 暑い, 遅い, 静か, etc. are more objective and relate to the object only. Adjectives don’t always work this way in English: Saying “that was delicious,” while equally subjective, feels closer to my bowl of ramen than うまい or おいしい does. …if that makes any sense.

Of course, only ちょっと can be the number one. I love it because of its frequency and variety of use and because it is one exception to the beautiful uniformity of く and に adverbs.

Are there any others that I’m missing?

Cool Word – やけ酒


I have another column in the Japan Times today: “Drinking in Japan: Sober words to help you socialize.” It’s a fun column with some of the words you might encounter at a drinking party with coworkers…and an equally useful set that might help you avoid such a drinking party – not exactly an easy thing to do in Japan.

Sadly I don’t have the artwork I wanted to include with this post. When I was studying abroad, I had a crush on this girl in the international exchange club. I never had much of a chance to get to know her or even interact with her all that much, but there was one time when we talked and she drew me a very simple cartoon vocab lesson. She drew two people drinking together and labeled it サシ飲み and a sad person drinking alone and labeled it やけ酒.

やけ酒 is one of those words that has such a specific usage that it generally draws laughs when used as hyperbole. I haven’t ever really had much of an occasion to drink away my sorrows, to be honest, but it’s fun to pretend sometimes. Two Saturdays ago, my San Antonio Spurs lost Game 3 of their series against the Dallas Mavericks in devastating fashion: 37-year-old Vince Carter hit a last-second corner three to end the game. My Japanese coworker texted me: “I’m sorry. Vince made a miracle shot!”

I texted back: “今夜はやけ酒です(ㄒ.ㄒ)”

His response was, “「やけ酒」is good word (笑)”

So, yes, use it for laughs, use it for real. Hopefully the former and not the latter.

As I was getting ready to write this post, I looked for that cartoon that the girl had drawn for me ten years ago, but I wasn’t able to track it down. I have two file folders of loose photos and letters, and I was hoping it was tucked away in there. Alas. It still might be in a book somewhere, but it’s likely I threw it away.

Which turns out to be appropriate…somewhat. Apparently there are kanji for やけ酒, and they look like this:


I’m not exactly a kanji master, but those look like ateji to me. Literally you have self (自) + throw away () + liquor (酒). The first two are a compound where 自 is the direct object and 棄 is the verb: “throw away/abandon yourself.”

The real pronunciation looks more evident from this compound: 自暴自棄 (じぼうじき). Very cool stuff – check out the Japanese definition here to see if you can understand it, and then take a look at the English here if it’s difficult.

The Spurs lost again tonight (Friday, 5/2), and I can’t sleep so I wrote this post. I’ll save the self-destructive drinking for tomorrow night.

Cool Word – 触れ合う


I’ve got another article in the Japan Times today: “Being laughed at can help your Japanese evolve.”

Two months in a row! I’m on a role. But long-time readers will notice that I’ve really just mined content from two of my favorite posts: The Apper-ative Tense (blatant misuse of the word “tense” there) and 笑われていいとも!

Yer getting lazy, Morales! I did add a pretty sweet metaphor with that caveman thing, though.

At any rate, I’ve been laughed at more recently. On my first day of work here in Chicago, the guy in the neighboring office came over to say hello and introduce himself. We talked, and I mentioned how I hadn’t had many opportunities to use Japanese in New Orleans: 日本人と触れ合う機会が非常に少なかった。

He paused for a moment and then, with an inquisitive look on his face, mimed hugging someone.

I had that momentary fear, that shiver of embarrassment, and I questioned whether or not I knew the actual meaning of 触れ合う (ふれあう). “Did I just say, ‘I didn’t have any opportunity to rub up on Japanese people?’” I wondered.

So I made a kind of disappointed face and then said, 変な日本語を使っちゃってすみません。To which he laughed.

But now I think he was just taking the piss. A quick check of the definition shows that ふれあう can mean “brush against,” but it can also mean exactly what I thought it meant: “interact with.” It’s one of those words that gets tossed around in organizations that do cultural work, and I remember it getting used a lot in my town when the Lithuanian artists-in-residence were there: They wanted to take advantage of the chance for kids to get involved with art and with foreigners.

So now I have to go back and reconsider what exactly it was that I said that day that was strange. Maybe it was my pronunciation. Or maybe he was just taking the piss.

I think this is the appropriate response to laughter: Pause, reevaluate, continue on. I didn’t let it get to me. I still talk with the guy, and I still talk with others. Whatever you do, don’t let a few silly mistakes force you back into the cave. The cave is dark and lonely and there is no Japanese.