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Archive for the ' Vocabulary' Category

5/2/2008

The most useful word… EVAR

In every language, there’s a common pattern of the most useful words being the most complicated and confusing. This is a natural consequence from the fact that the word must cover many different types of usages and meanings in order to be so useful. Due to its usefulness, it will also often go through various types of abbreviations and shortcuts to facilitate speaking, further complicating the issue. This post will cover what could arguably be the most useful and hence the most intricate word in Japanese: 「いい」. We’ll see that this word is much more expansive in scope and usage than the English equivalent word “good”. Just learning the definition is barely scratching the surface of this useful word.

Briefly on Conjugation

I’ll assume that most readers are already familiar with many of the discrepancies in the conjugation rules for 「いい」 and so I’ll just briefly mention that the discrepancies are all caused by the change from 「よい」 to 「いい」. This word is so useful and so often used that even the slight pursing of the lips to pronounce 「よ」 seemed to tax Japanese speakers and was eventually changed to 「いい」. The newer version has the added convenience of removing one pronunciation completely and replacing it with a single longer pronunciation of 「い」. The older version is now considered formal and old-fashioned. Unfortunately, many of the conjugated forms such as the negative (よくない) failed to transition over to the new pronunciation hence creating a number of discrepancies which annoy Japanese beginners to this day.

To get the full scope, check out my page on adjectives on my grammar guide. Now let’s look at the various ways this adjective can be used. You’ll also see how these patterns translate to very different things in English and yet is just a simple adjective with some grammar patterns in Japanese.

Using 「いい」 for permission

The usage of 「いい」 for asking and granting permission is just another example of the fundamental difference between Japanese and English, as well as, a great example of how vital it is to understand how 「いい」 is used in various grammatical patterns.

In English you use words like “can” or “may” to ask for permission, in Japanese the word 「できる」 is reserved only for the ability to do something, not on whether it’s permitted or not. (This is similar to the difference between 能/会 and 行 in Chinese.)

In Japanese, you ask for permission by asking literally, “Is it good even if I…”. I’m sure many of you in Japanese class learned the phrase: 「トイレに行ってもいいですか?」 This literally means, “Is it good even if I go to the bathroom?” Your teacher may respond by saying either 「いいです」 or 「だめです」 (or the very formal 「いけません」). There’s a logical discrepancy here in that the positive answer is 「いい」 but the negative answer is not simply the negative: 「よくない」. This is because the 「てはいけない/てはならない/てはだめ」 grammar pattern set for saying you can’t do something is separate from the one that says you can do something.

However, while saying “can” versus “can’t” is not as easy in Japanese as saying 「いい」 versus 「よくない」, there is one very useful way to use negatives with the 「V~てもいい」 pattern. You can negate the verb in front to have 「~なくてもいい」. Let’s see how this translates literally for the example: 「行ってもいい」.

1. 行ってもいい。
- It’s good even if [you] go.

2. 行かなくてもいい。
- It’s good even if [you] don’t go.

Can you guess what the examples translates to in English? The first means, “You can go” while the second means “You don’t have to go”. Once again, you have two completely different grammar patterns in one language while the other is just the negative and positive version of the same grammar pattern. Except this time, it’s the other way around. This is another example of why it’s best to work in the target language as opposed to trying to tie everything into English.

Let’s look at the following example short conversation at a training seminar.

Aさん) トイレに行ってもいいですか?
Bさん) いいですよ。これは授業じゃないから、聞かなくてもいいですよ。
Aさん) じゃ、戻らなくてもいいですか?
Bさん) だめです。

This next dialog shows how slang can hide these grammar patterns but still have the same meaning. In the dialog, Aさん is not asking if the pen is a little good.

Aさん) そのペン、ちょっといい
Bさん) だめ。俺、使っているよ?
Aさん) いいから早く貸して。

Using 「いい」 for good result

There are many variations to this usage but the basic idea is to show a good result as a result of something. The most basic example of this usage is to make a suggestion.

例) 病院に行った方がいい。
- The side of going to hospital is good. (You should go to the hospital.)

例) どこに行けばいいですか?
- If [I] go, where is good? (Where should I go?)

Notice the non-literal translation uses the same word “should” but as you can see, the word “should” has many meanings which are expressed differently in Japanese. The first is a general suggestion such as “you should see a doctor” or “you should get some more sleep” while the second is conditional on the situation such as “Which way should I go if I wanted to go to the mall?” or “Where should I write my name?”

You can also use the past tense to talk about what you did (relief) or should have done (wishful thinking).

例) 早く予約してよかった!
- [I] made reservation early and it was good! (Good thing I made the reservation earlier!)

例) 早く予約すればよかった!
- If [I] had made reservation early it would have been good! (I should have made the reservation earlier.)

Again, you really can’t directly translate English phrases like “Good thing I…” or “I should have…”, you have to use a grammar pattern and 「いい」 to express a similar thing.

Here’s another example conversation.

Aさん) 頭が痛い。
Bさん) コンビにで薬を買った方がいいよ。
Aさん) どこのコンビニに行けばいいの?
Bさん) 駅の近くにあると思う。
Aさん) 今日仕事休めばよかった

Conclusion

In writing this article, I surprised even myself on all the various hidden but essential ways 「いい」 is used in the Japanese language. It can be expressed to indicated things you should do, things that are allowed, things you don’t have to do, and much more. I hope this article helped you realize the importance mastering the many uses of 「いい」 and why it’s better to approach it from Japanese instead of from English.

Am I missing any important usages here? Let me know in the comments!


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11/9/2007

Begin the journey to mastering your 気

「気」 is a kind of energy embodied by your mind and spirit… or so they say. Personally, I really don’t believe in all that mumbo-jumbo but we still have to deal with it because it’s often used in everyday Japanese to describe your mind-set or feelings. In fact, the characters for your emotional feelings 「気持ち」 means 「気」 that is held” and your physical feelings 「気分」 also contains the same 「気」 character.

I’m going to go over some of the most useful and basic ways to use your 「気」 and I don’t mean fireballs and kung-fu skills here. Rather, I’ve compiled a list of common expressions that you can use to describe your 「気」. Though making a list of expressions is not usually not my kind of thing, they are so useful and simple (and for some reason often neglected in the classroom) that I feel it’s worth the time to list and describe them. Also, these kinds of expressions are very hard to find in the dictionary unless you almost already know what you’re looking for.

「気」 with verbs so basic, your grandma can use it

Putting aside the image of your grandma firing off hadokens, here is a list of 「気」 expressions with the most simple and basic verbs. I’ve tried to interpret some of the literal meanings as a aid in memorizing what all these kinds of 「気」 means.

  1. 気にする – Means to worry about something. It is almost always used in the negative to say, “Don’t worry about it”. The meaning is similar to 「心配しないで」 except 「心配」 involves actual worry and anxiety. 「気にしない」 means don’t even bother paying attention to it or wasting your 「気」.

    1) 気にしないで – Don’t worry about it.

  2. 気になる – Similar to 「気にする」 except instead of bothering about something, it’s becoming a bother. In other words, it’s something that is niggling your subconscious and making you wonder about something.

    1) 彼女の歳が気になる。 – I wonder what her age is. (lit: Her age has been bothering me.)

  3. 気がする – Your 「気」 is acting up and alerting your senses. As a result, you have a feeling of whatever you attach 「気がする」 to.

    1) もう終わった気がする。- I have a feeling that [it] already ended.

  4. 気がつく (気づく) – Your 「気」 attaches to you making you regain consciousness in the literal sense or in a figurative sense of just waking up and smelling the coffee.

    1) 気がついたら、もう9時になっていた。 – When I came to my senses, it had become 9:00 already.
    2) 彼は全然気づいていない。 – He doesn’t realize (or hasn’t noticed) it at all.

  5. 気をつける – Attach your 「気」 and always keep your wits about you. In other words, be careful.

    1) 気をつけて! – Be careful!/Take care!

  6. 気をつかう – Use your 「気」 to pay attention to or attend somebody. A good host always uses her 「気」 for her guests and their needs.

    1) 気をつかってくれて、ありがとう! – Thanks for caring about me!

Conclusion

I’ve tried to keep my list short and simple to prevent this becoming a monster list with too much information. However, if you’re in the mood, you can scroll through a huge list by going to WWWJDIC, search for 「気」 and set the checkmark for “Starting Kanji”. You’ll get all sorts of useful expressions like 「気が強い」、「気が向く」、「気が散る」、etc., etc. Someday, you can become a master of at least talking about your 「気」 without even having to work out!


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11/9/2006

“Overflowing with leftover goodness…”

I love to write about parts of Japanese that are almost always left out of the standard Japanese language curriculum. This usually applies to vocabulary that can be considered “inappropriate” for the classroom. I also like to talk about topics where the explanation is usually glossed over or oversimplified because the concepts are too difficult to explain in English. I say “bah humbug!” to all that, which is why you can come here after class to get the full, unadulterated version.

So when I thought back to Japanese 101 and the time the teacher told us to only use the negative with 「あまり」 I thought, “Hey, wait a minute!” I now know that you can use 「あまり」 with the positive, the only difference is that you get the opposite meaning of the negative version. Makes perfect sense, right? Of course things aren’t actually that simple, so read on if you want to get the full scoop on 「あまり」.

Sorry, we’re all out of whatever it is you’re looking for

「あまり」 is a pseudo adverb/adjective version of the verb 「あまる」(余る), which means for something to be left over. So, when you use 「あまり」 with the negative, you are essentially saying there is nothing left over. For example, 「あまりよくない」 literally means there is no “goodness” left over. Ok, so that doesn’t make much sense. A more natural definition would be the one we all learned in Japanese 101, “not very” or “not that much”. However, it is useful to know where 「あまり」 originally came from to see how the meaning changes if we don’t use the negative tense.

Those leftovers are excessive, man!

If the negative tense means there’s no leftovers, the opposite would obviously mean that there are leftovers. In other words, something is so excessive that there are leftovers you can’t deal with. As opposed to 「あまりよくない」、 「あまりにいい」 means that something is so good that the goodness is just overflowing with leftovers. For example, 「あまりにいい天気」 means “weather that is excessively good”. This is slightly different from 「天気がよすぎる」 meaning that the weather is too good, which has a negative connotation. 「あまりにいい天気」 just means that the weather is really, really good. It’s so good that the goodness is just overflowing and the leftover goodness is just strewn about all over the floor.

1) 天気があまりよくないので、散歩するのをやめた。
- The weather wasn’t very good so I quit going for a walk.

2) あまりにいい天気だったので、1時間も散歩をしました。
- The weather was so good that I took a walk for a whole hour.

You may have noticed the positive version uses the 「に」 target particle as in 「あまりいい」. This is normal because you need to use the target particle in order to make adjectives into adverbs such as 「上手に」 or 「簡単に」. The irregularity instead comes from the lack of any particles for the negative case. I first described 「あまり」 as a pseudo adverb/adjective because you don’t need to use any particles when using it with the negative tense. It is very similar to 「同じ」, which also doesn’t require any particles to use as an adverb/adjective. Words like 「あまり」 and 「同じ」 are difficult to categorize for this reason. However, with 「あまり」, when you are using it for the non-negative tense, the normal rules apply and you do need attach the 「に」 particle in order to use it as an adverb.

A) 日本語はあまり難しいよ。
- Japanese is so difficult, you know. (grammatic error)

B) 日本語はあまり難しい。
- Japanese is so difficult.

A) ほら、難しいでしょ!
- See, it is hard!

More fun with 「あまり」

Since we’re having so much fun, I thought I’d mention a couple other things related to 「あまり」. First, because the Japanese are always trying to come up with easier way to say things, we have the casual equivalents: 「あんまり」 and 「あんま」. I would say 「あんまり」 is used even more than 「あまり」 in conversational Japanese while 「あんま」 sounds a bit masculine due to it’s short length.

1) 時間があんまりないんだよね。
-Hmm… there’s not much time.

2) 時間があんまないんだよな。
-Hmm… there’s not much time.

As for using this slang for the non-negative case, while googling for 「あんまりに」 did yield a sizable number of results, 「あんまに」 didn’t turn up much so I suggest using 「あんま」 only for the negative tense.

Finally, 「余」, the kanji for 「あまり」 is also used in a some very useful words like 「余裕」 and 「余計」. 「余計」, in particular, is a word you’ll see all the time once you learn it. It’s very useful for when somebody says or does too much. Essentially, you can use it to tell people that it’s none of their business.

1) 余計なお世話だよ!
- None of your business! (lit: You’re unnecessarily taking care of me!)

2) 余計なことを言うんじゃいよ。
- Don’t say things that are none of your business. (lit: You don’t say unnecessary things, you know.)

Conclusion

As we have seen, there is a lot more to the word 「あまり」 than what is normally taught to beginning Japanese students. I suspect this is the case because 「あまり」 is most often used with the negative tense and covering any more would confuse the poor students. Apparently, Japanese students are very easily confused and should not be exposed to the scary parts of the language so that they can stay in their safe and comfortable cocoon of polite, “proper” Japanese (whatever that means) .


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9/8/2006

Mo’ Moe!

「秋葉」 used to be Tokyo’s biggest electronic district. I say, “used to” because it has been steadily turning into something shadier over the years.

「秋葉」(short for 「秋葉原」) is pretty much a geek’s paradise. There are all sorts of games and electronic stores including the massive 「ヨドバシカメラ」, which was newly built not too long ago.

Well, it turns out that there are two different categories of geeks: the technology geek and the creepy geek. 秋葉 used to be for the technology geeks, guys who were into gadgets, software, and hardware. But it turns out many geeks have interests in another realm, which I can only describe as “shady”.

I go through 秋葉 everyday on my commute but I decided to take my commuter’s pass, go over there on a weekend, and actually look around and explore the neighborhood. What I found out was that probably about half of the businesses there now cater to the “dark side” of the geek population.

First of all, there were mountains of porn. What looked like perfectly normal stores would suddenly have a whole floor for porn. Some stores had a whole floor just for animated porn. Scratch that, some stores were for animated porn! You can’t find this kind of selection for this type of stuff anywhere else in the world. (Incidentally, just to be clear, I didn’t actually look around or purchase anything. In fact, I didn’t even go inside, I could pretty much tell what it was from the staircase. Just to be clear.)

Besides the monumental amount of porn, 秋葉 is increasingly turning more fetish-like. I can’t explain this any better than saying one word: 「萌え」. 「萌え」 is kind of like “ubuntu” in that it represents a whole concept and therefore doesn’t have any specific definition. The similarity totally ends there though. Let’s see what we can find out about this word on the net.

(If you want to learn more about 「萌え」, you can also check out the Japanese wikipedia entry on 「萌え」. It’s so extensive, it’s practically a research paper.)

萌えとは

一般に「架空のキャラクターに対する愛情」として理解されることが多い。が、マスコミ的にはオタク全般に対するイメージと合わさり、歪んだ伝搬をされることもしばしばである。なぜか萌え=メイドさん、のニュアンスが付加されるなど。
(from はてな)

「なぜか萌え=メイドさん」 Ahh yes, the maids. As a fellow male, I just cannot understand the attraction of maids. I mean, these maid costumes completely cover the body with layers and layers of clothing. Yawn. And yet 秋葉 has totally been taken over by maid cafes, called 「メード喫茶」, for reasons beyond my comprehension. Let’s take a look at this list of maid cafes. CURE MAID CAFE in 秋葉原、ひよこ家 in 秋葉原、Cafe Mai:lish… 秋葉原、Cos-Cha hmm… 秋葉原? 秋葉原 isn’t even that big a place but I bet the list doesn’t even come close to covering all the maid cafes in 秋葉原.


Cuter without the maid costume?
(from Cafe Mai:lish)

Worse, the maids have started branching into other industries such as 萌バーガー, a burger shop and even a hair salon called moesham. (Notice the use of 「萌え」 in both store names)

The 萌え phenomenon and 2ちゃんねる* have spawned a new class of vocabulary. My favorite is 「ツンデレ」, which comes from 「ツンツン」 and 「デレデレ」. I love it because, Yahoo, of all the places, has the funniest definition ever.

ツンデレ (つんでれ)

アニメや漫画のキャラクターの傾向を表す語。普段はツンツンしているヒロインが、恋人と2人きりになるとデレッとかわいくなること。アニメの主人公のキャラクターとして求めていたものだが、実際に自分が付き合う女性に対しても、こうした性格を求めるようになっている。ツンツンして取っつきにくいのに、付き合いを始めると実はしおらしくていつの間にかデレデレとしてくることを求めるのである。しかし、現実にはそうした二面性をもった女性を、オタクの男性がゲットすることはきわめてむずかしいとみられる。
(from Yahoo!辞書)

Basically, 「ツンデレ」 characterizes a common manga/anime female character who is aloof and cold (ツンツン) but becomes all lovey-dovey (デレデレ) when she is alone with the boy she likes. The definition above explains it much better though. The last sentence is the best because it’s worded so seriously and yet is a total smackdown on the オタク nerds who have no real chance with such a girl.

I’ve actually heard rumors of 「ツンデレ・カフェ」. Apparently there was a 「ツンデレ・イベント」 this March. I guess the maids are rude when you walk in and nice when you leave? Hmm… might be the next big thing.

Conclusion

I’m going to conclude here, now that I’ve managed to brilliantly turn this into a language lesson. So I’ll just put this into the “Vocabulary” category and end yet another educational post. (What? You didn’t realize that the whole point of this post was to explore the exciting Japanese language?) I’m not entirely sure if it is appropriate for the “Culture” category though.

あばよ!


*2ちゃんねる is basically the most poorly designed BBS in the history of the world. I mean, I tried using it once but had to stop because the user interface induced me into a temporary coma. The popularity of this website is yet another mystery I’ll never understand.


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9/1/2006

I was going to make a better title but eh, whatever

I think I learned 「別に」 probably around the same time I learned how to say “yes” and “no” in Japanese. That’s how awesome and useful this expression is. Unfortunately, it’s not the type of thing that’s taught in a classroom so I’m putting this one in the “Colloquialism” category, which is just my way of saying, “I take no responsibility for what you do with this stuff.”

Don’t get me wrong. 「別」 is an incredibly useful character and is used in a variety of perfectly legitimate words. I would definitely put it in the top 100 kanji list. For instance, 「別れる」 means to “breakup” or “to part from”, a word just as useful but not as harsh as 「振られる」, which means you were dumped or more literally, “shaken off” (ouch). Or just repeat the same character and you have 「別々」, which is essential for when you don’t want to pay for everybody else’s meal. (”Going Dutch” is, unlike Korea and China, customary and quite common in Japan.) And finally, we have 「別に」, the topic of today’s post.

Don’t try this at class

「別に」 is an expression that is very similar to 「微妙」, in many ways. It has a perfectly normal and standard usage but it can also be considered slang, if you use it a certain way.

A lot of people learning Japanese at school have probably already learned 「特に」, which means “especially” or “particularly”. It’s an useful expression particularly because you can use it with the negative to express a lack of preference.

A) なんか食べたい物ある?
- Is there anything you want to eat?

B) 特にないけど・・・
- Not particularly.

Now, that’s all fine and good but what if we wanted to express a lack of preference for positive answers, for instance, like the following dialogue?

A) Can I borrow this?
B) Whatever, sure.

In Japanese, when somebody asks you if something is ok to do, you normally respond with 「いいよ」 (or いいですよ). But 「特にいい」 doesn’t really work here, because it is not a negative response and you end up with, “It’s particularly good”. That doesn’t make much sense. So how do we translate the, “whatever” into Japanese? Well, why don’t we take a look at the following dialogue?

A) これ、借りていい?
- Can I borrow this?

B) 別にいいよ。
- Whatever, sure.

「別に」 actually means “apart from” but you don’t really need to include from what exactly. So you can use it in place of 「特に」 such as the first dialogue to say pretty much the same thing.

A) なんか食べたい物ある?
- Is there anything you want to eat?

B) 別にないけど・・・
- Nothing really.

The “nothing really” is a loose translation but it reflects the fact that you are literally saying, “nothing, apart from” and being vague about what exactly is separate.

If you were wondering how to express your apathetic, non-caring, and sketchy personality, 「別に」 is just the ticket.

A) 本当に行かなくてもいいの?
- Is it really ok to not go?

B) 別に行かなくてもいいよ。
- Whatever, I don’t have to go.

A) チョコが好き?
- Do you like chocolate?

B) 別に。
- Whatever.

Conclusion

So next time somebody is badgering you with questions, you can just reply with 「別に」. Make sure you say it with plenty of spit and a look of complete contempt while you’re at it. It’ll be like you’re saying, “Uh uh, whatever“, all shaking your head, with one hand on your hip and the other waving a index finger at your victim.

Oh wait, was this the part where I was supposed tell you not to do that?


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7/12/2006

How come they never teach 「何で」?

I don’t know how far Japanese language education has progressed in recent years, but back when I was a student, we were taught to use 「どうして」 for “why”. This was great until I went out into the real world and found out that people used another word that I was never taught: 「なんで」. Huh? What the-? Why wasn’t I taught the real deal instead of being handed down a second-rate word that nobody uses? Why eat a California roll when you can have real sushi?

Now that I know some more stuff (you know… stuff… and things…), I can think of two reasons: 1) 「なんで」 is a bit informal and would not be appropriate in some written contexts, and 2) 「なんで」 has some “issues” and they didn’t want to confuse the poor students (we were confused enough as it was).

Only in Japanese, can you write paragraphs explaining the word for “why”

I can understand why you would rather teach 「どうして」 as a teacher. It’s perfectly normal Japanese and you can use it just about anywhere in any context and be “safe”. The only problem is that Japanese people don’t use it that much. Why? Probably because 「なんで」 is shorter and easier to say.

Unlike 「どうして」, you have to be a little more careful when using 「なんで」. First of all, it’s more for conversational Japanese so you don’t want it use it on, for example, official documents. In this sense, 「なんで」 is kind of similar to “how come” instead of just “why”.

Second, things can get kind of confusing because 「なんで」 in kanji is 「何で」 and 「何」 is the kanji for 「なに」. 「で」 is also the particle for describing means. You can see the problem this overlapping might cause.

スパゲッティは、何で食べるの?
-A: With what (by what means) do you eat spaghetti?
-B: Why do you eat spaghetti?

The sentence above can have two meaning and there is no way to tell without any context. The dictionary says that 「何で」(なんで) means “why”. But if you write it in kanji, it looks identical to 「なにで」. There’s even a Japanese page with a survery of 「なんで」 vs 「なにで」. In general, 「なんで」 means “why” and 「なにで」 means “by what means” so when you want to make things absolutely clear, you should write it in hiragana.

In terms of ambiguity, 「どうして」 also has the same type of issues because 「どう」 means “how” and 「して」 is the te-form of 「する」.

どうしていいか分からない。
-A: I don’t know what I should do (how to do so that it’s good).
-B: I don’t know why it’s good.

The first translation is more likely, but the second interpretation is possible as well. There’s no way to tell for sure without more context. (Aren’t you glad you didn’t pick an easy, sissy language to learn?)

Because two just isn’t enough

「何故」 is yet another word that means “why”, which we need because… I’m pretty sure there’s a good reason. 「何故」 is more formal than the other words for “why” and has, I feel, a sharper sting to it, if that makes any sense. It’s more suitable for when you want to ask hard-hitting questions such as, for example, a narrative for a documentary. As a result, you don’t hear this too often in regular, everyday conversations.

一体何故、こんなことになったのでしょうか?
-Just why, exactly, did this happen?

Conclusion

Now that you know all the ways of saying “why” in Japanese (minus local dialects I’m not aware of), you can ask questions like the following in a variety of ways.

Why, Lord, why, is Japanese so complicated?!!

There, aren’t you happy now?


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7/10/2006

Lessons learned from 「本当」

Hi, it’s me again with (hopefully) another great post breaking down the intricacies of the hardest language on the planet (pats myself on back). This time we are going to take a deeper look at a word that probably every hard-core anime fan is already familiar with: 「本当」.

本当?!That’s 超 Awesome!! ← (Don’t ever talk like this)

Calm down. This is not a Japanese anime lesson like, for instance “Reiko-chan’s site“, a site so cool it makes me want to cry. Instead, I’m going to look at how the individuals characters 「本」 and 「当」 are used in ways you may not be aware of. You’ll see that these characters are used quite often in Japanese that is slightly more mature than Sailor Moon.

It’s the real stuff

「本」 is so useful that it’s probably one of the first characters everybody learns. You probably already know that it means, “book” by itself and is also part of the word for “Japan” (日本). You may even know that it’s a counter for bottles, something you’ll need to know if you’re a drunkard salaryman like me.

But did you know that 「本」 also means, “the real thing”? In fact, the word 「本物」 means exactly that as it uses 「本」 with 「物」, the character for object. Other examples include words such as: 本日、本人、本来、本場、本番、本音、本格的、本気、本名. The 「本」 in all these words act like a prefix indicating that it’s the genuine thing.

Let’s take a closer look at 「本日」 and 「本人」 and the role 「本」 plays in each word.

本日

「本日」(ほんじつ) essentially means “today”, but why have another word for “today” when you already have 「今日」? The only difference, as you can see, is the use of 「本」 instead of 「今」. In other words, as opposed to the present day, 「本日」 means, “the real day” (the only “real day” being the current one).

1)今日来てくれてありがとう。
- Thanks for coming today.

2)本日は、ご来場ありがとうございました。
- I would like to thank everybody for coming today.

The only real, practical difference between 「今日」 and 「本日」 is that 「本日」 sounds more official, similar to the difference between saying, “at this point in time” versus saying just “now”. While the practical difference is a bit unrelated, knowing the precise difference between the kanji will help you get a feel for where this difference comes from.

本人

「本人」(ほんにん) is a very useful word mainly because Japanese doesn’t have any pronouns. While you can say 「自分」 for oneself, you don’t have the equivalent for himself or herself. So if you wanted to say, “Talk to the man, himself”, 「本人」 is a handy way to easily refer to the real person in question. Here’s a quick example.

A)田中さんは、いつ結婚するの?
- When is Tanaka-san getting married?

B)本人に聞いたらどう?
- How about asking the actual person, himself?

In addition, expect to see this word used often in applications such as for visas or passports that need to describe what the applicant, herself, must do.

パスポートを受け取る時には、本人が必ず窓口においで下さい。
- When getting the passport, the applicant, herself, must come to the window.

This meaning of “genuine” is related to the original meaning of “root” (hence the tree character (木) with a line across the bottom of the tree). Also derived from the same meaning, 「本」 can be used to mean “main”. Examples of this usage include words like: 本体、本館、本社、本州、本文.

It’s the stuff in question

The second character 「当」 is just as useful as 「本」 and almost as common. The character by itself describes when something hits its target. For instance, the verb 「当たる」 is used to describe winning a raffle because you were successfully targeted from the random selection. The 「当」 character is similarly used in a variety of kanji compounds to describe the targeted time or location. This is very useful for talking about the time or location in question by using words such as: 当月、当日、当時、当社、当店、該当. Here’s a simple example.

この切符は発売当日のみ有効です。
-This ticket is only valid on the day of purchase.

In the example above, you could have simply described the day that the ticket was bought by saying something like 「買った日」 but it’s not as concise or as professional-sounding as 「発売当日」.

This type of usage is very useful because no matter what the actual time is, it refers only to the time in question. That means that if it’s understood by the context, you don’t have to go through the pain of describing exactly which time that is. Here’s another example.

当時は、運転免許を持ってなかったので、どこにも行けなかったんですよ。
-At that time, I didn’t have a driver’s license so I couldn’t go anywhere.

Here’s another example using a location instead of time.

当店では名前を隠して販売するような商品は扱っておりません。
-We do not handle products that are sold with hidden names at our stores.

「この店」 would also make sense in this sentence but since there may be more than one store and you’re not specifying a store at a specific location, 「当店」 is used to refer vaguely to the store in question.

Conclusion

We took at look at the kanji making up 「本当」, their real meanings, and how they are used in a variety of words. I hope this will help you easily understand a whole slew of new words that use the same kanji. Getting a true sense of what each individual kanji means in this fashion often gives you important clues and mnemonics for learning new words, which is one of the great benefits of using kanji.


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6/24/2006

It’s that guy, fellow, chap thing

No offense, but where’s some of the more practical/useful stuff? For a while there, you had me checking this blog everyday – and learning something new every time you posted something. These days…not so much. – jljzen

Ouch. Ok, I admit, I’ve been incredibly lazy with this blog lately. Sometimes I go on a writing spree then I get burned out and have to do something else for a while. It doesn’t mean I’ve run of things to write about. In fact, I would rate this post an 8 on the practical/useful scale. What? You want to know what the scale is based on? Sorry, I’m too busying writing this to answer your question.

This word is used all the time… kind of

「奴」(やつ) is yet another one of those words that just can’t be easily translated into English and yet it’s often used in casual conversations. Look it up at the WWWJDIC and it’ll say, “(1) (vulg) fellow; guy; chap; (2) thing; object”. Hmm… I don’t know about you but when I hear “chap”, I picture, “Quite splendid, I must say!” and “Would you like two cubes of sugar with your tea or just one?” “Fellow” and “guy” isn’t very helpful either. The second definition is also too vague to really make much sense to me. Yahoo 辞書 isn’t much better as it says pretty much the same thing. So why don’t we take a closer look at what the definitions are trying to tell us and how the word is actually used in Japanese?

There was a fellow, a guy, and a chap…

The first definition may sound like the beginning of a joke but what it’s trying to say is that 「やつ」 is a naughtier version of 「人」. It’s impossible to translate because it can have either a good or bad meaning. In any case, by using 「やつ」, it becomes obvious that you don’t have much respect for that person. So you should use this only for your homeys or at least when the person in question is not around to hear you. (God, I can’t believe I just said, “homeys”.)

A: この学校って、変なやつばかりだな。
- This school is just full of strange guys.

B: みんなオタクだからよ。
- It’s because they’re all nerds.

A: 10,000円を貸してくんない?
- Can you send me 10,000 yen.

B: いいよ。
- Sure.

A: マジで?!お前って、本当にいいやつだな!
- Really? You’re really a great guy!

It’s, you know… stuff

The second definition of 「やつ」 refers to generic things. In this case, since objects don’t have feelings, you can use it much more freely than the previous definition.

A: 丸くて赤いのがあるじゃん。すっごく高いやつ。あれを買ってよ。
- You know there’s that round, red thing? The really expensive thing. Buy that thing for me.

B: 全然分かんないけど、とにかく嫌だ。自分で買ってよ。
- I have no idea but anyway I don’t want to. You buy it yourself.

In the example above, I could have used 「物」 instead of 「やつ」 but that just sounds too stiff in the type of casual language used in the example. 「やつ」 sounds much cooler and more hip.

The 「こ、そ、あ、ど」 version

You are probably already familiar with a variety of generic words starting with こ、そ and あ indicating proximity. Just like you have 「これ」、「それ」、and 「あれ」 to mean, “this”, “that”, and “that” (way over there), the same versions of 「やつ」 are 「こいつ」、「そいつ」、and 「あいつ」 respectively. There is also 「どいつ」, the question word for 「やつ」, similar to 「どれ」. You can use these words to refer to both people and objects. In the case of objects, it becomes a rougher and more casual version of 「これ」、「それ」、「あれ」、and 「どれ」. These words are great for when you want to add a bit of punch when referring to the objects around you.

A: すごいんだよ。こいつをパソコンに入れると性能が何倍も上がるんだよ!
- It’s awesome. If you put this in the computer, the performance increases manifold.

B: あ、そう?よかったね。
- Is that so? That’s nice.

I almost want to translate the 「こいつ」 from the previous example as “this shit” but I don’t think it’s quite as strong. If you think of it as a word somewhere between just “this” and “this shit”, I think you’ll have a good idea of what the difference is between just 「これ」 and 「こいつ」.

As before, you can use it to show disdain or a lack of respect for people. In this case, 「あいつ」 is probably the most common because it means that the person is not there to actually hear you.

A: あいつはもう嫌いだ!
- I hate that punk, already!

B: そうよ。もう別れた方がいいって。
- That’s right. As I told you, it’s better to just break up.

Conclusion

I hope this post sheds some light on the side of Japanese you’ll never see in textbooks. Despite the stereotype, Japanese people are not nice and polite all the time as the textbooks make them out to be. It’s life, shit happens, and of course, Japanese has a language for those occasions. You’ll hear these words more often than you expect especially among the younger (kind of delinquent?) crowds where it seems like they use 「こいつ」、「そいつ」、etc. all the time when referring to people and things.


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5/8/2006

Wait, so it’s the same word but… not? When does the madness end??

When I was a naive little student earnestly learning kanji with glee, I remember thinking, “Yeah, now that I learned 「見る」, I now know the kanji for 「みる」!” Ha ha, if Japanese was that easy, I would have spend all that extra time not studying on training to become a professional StarCraft player instead like all the cool Koreans.

Actually, what you learn later on is that some words may have more than one kanji with slight differences in meaning such as, “This kanji means that you are feeling blue but this kanji is used when you are feeling blue and you want to sneeze but it just won’t come out. It also implies that your right index finger itches.”

Ok, ok, now I’m just trying to be funny… or am I? (Waggles eyebrows) Let’s see by taking a look at some alternative kanji for some common words and when to use them. Hint: It’s when you want to look “cool” and “smart”. (Emphasis on the quotation marks)
For example, let’s look at alternatives for 「見る」 (to see) and 「聞く」 (to hear/to ask).

You can see it, my child, yes, but can you see it?

While 「見る」 is fine for just regular “seeing” (whatever that means), you might see 「観る」 instead for when you are watching things such as movies and plays. I have no idea what the exact distinction is but I can tell you that 「観る」 uses the same kanji as the one for 「観光」, which means “sightseeing”. A coincidence? I think not.

Actually, I can’t complain about this too much because it’s easier than trying to explain the difference between the words, “to watch” and “to see”. Why don’t we try?

No, you can’t “see television”, you can only watch it. Yes, you can “see a movie”. Huh? Why, you ask? Hmm… I think it’s because native English speakers hate you. Yes, that sounds about right.

Moving on, if a doctor is examining you, you use 「診る」 instead, which uses the same kanji from 「診断」 meaning “diagnosis”.

Ask, hear, eh, what’s the difference?

In Japanese, 「聞く」 can mean either “to ask” or “to hear”. (After all, they are so totally related.) But if you want to be specific, you can use 「訊く」, which only means “to ask” or more accurately, “to inquire”. Also, when you are listening to music, you might use 「聴く」 instead. 「効く」 is also another alternative to mean that something is “taking effect”. It is often used in the context of taking medicine (or rather “drinking” in Japanese).

How do I figure out this madness??

So how do you figure this stuff out? Well, your best bet are Japanese-Japanese dictionaries such as 広辞苑 or 大辞泉. For instance, here is the definition for 「聴く」 .

2 (聴く)注意して耳にとめる。耳を傾ける。「名曲を―・く」「有権者の声を―・く」

Or better yet, if you use the Windows IME, the kanji selection menu will have explanations of the differences… in Japanese.

IME Screenshot
IME, the only Microsoft software
I know of that doesn’t suck
(until they build a vacuum).

For bonus points, see if you can figure out the difference between:

1. 速い vs 早い

2. 取る vs 撮る vs 盗る

3. 飛ぶ vs 跳ぶ

4. 熱い vs 暑い

5. 彫る vs 掘る

6. 閉める vs 締める vs 占める

7. “Japanese” vs “A tongue invented by the devil to prevent the spread of Christianity”.

8. 止まる vs 停まる vs 泊まる


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3/27/2006

What did 「っけ」 mean, again?

Ha ha, I’m so clever because if you translate the title of this post into Japanese, it uses the same expression that the question is asking about, thus creating a paradox and opening a blackhole in some alternate universe… or something like that.

…As you can tell, I’ve been too lazy to come up with any real content or finish any of the 20-some drafts I have waiting to be worked on. So I put together this simple post about 「っけ」. Still, it’s a simple and very useful expression, so I feel like I can give myself a pat on the back on this one.

「っけ」 is essentially a simple sound you put at the end of a sentence when you are asking about something that you are trying to recall but can’t seem to quite remember. If you want to say, “What was that thing again?” in Japanese, this expression will do just the trick. It’s also perfect for those tip-of-the-tongue type moments.

As I mentioned, you can see an example of 「っけ」 in the title of this post itself.

「『っけ』」はどういう意味だったっけ?」
- What did 「っけ」 mean, again?

You can also use 「っけ」 at the end of polite sentences as well. Though it adds a bit of a casual tone to your sentence, it should be fine if you are well acquainted with the person you’re talking to. It’ll at least add a little more color to the zombie style of Japanese you find in textbooks in any case.

1.この単語の意味は何ですか?
- What is the mean of this word? (I am a zombie)

2.この単語の意味は何でしたっけ
- What was the meaning of this word, again? (shoot, I forgot)

Don’t forget to add 「だ」 to nouns and na-adjectives

The only care you need to take in using this expression is to make sure to use the declarative 「だ」 when attaching 「っけ」 to nouns or na-adjectives.

Wrong) 今日は、何曜日っけ?
Correct) 今日は、何曜日っけ?
- What day of the week is it, again?

In fact, though it’s not required, 「っけ」 is generally used with 「だ」 and 「た」 for all parts of speech. In other words, it is usually in the form of 「だっけ」 or 「たっけ」. For i-adjectives and non-past verbs, you can use 「だっけ」 by adding 「んだ」.

1) 今日は行かなくてもいいんだっけ?
- Is it ok to not go today? (I can’t remember.)

2) これからどこへ行くんだっけ?
- Where are we going from here, again?

Just keep these points in mind and you should be well on your way to using this useful expression for all the times you forget what’s going on. (Which happens quite often in my case.)

1.これは何だっけ
- What is this again?

2.こんなところにドアがあったっけ
- Was there a door in a place like this? (I don’t remember one being here.)

3.授業は1時からだっけ
- What time does class start again? From 1:00?


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