Language hell

Cruel

The Japanese language is carefully constructed, I do believe, to maximize the potential for embarrassment. I am sure of this. Like most languages, words that sound nearly identical to one another can have wildly different meanings. But, in English you can lengthen or shorten the vowel sounds without changing the meaning of the word -- the Southern drawl, for example. Not true of Japanese. To make matters worse, Japanese does not differentiate gender or number and there are no articles. To add insult to injury, the subject is often omitted. Thus, much interpretive context is absent as compared to an English sentence.

 

Consider, if you will, the most benign example: <Biru> and <Biiru>. The first is a building, the second a beer. Fail to hold the ‘i’ sufficiently long and you are asking for a cold building instead of that draft you so desperately need. Okay that’s not too bad, and being in a bar provides mitigating context, but let us continue along the continuum of cruelty.

 

I’m pretty sure that I recently commented that “the truly ugly girls are remarkably on time in Japan, and they go everywhere!” The word for bus - <Basu> being unfortunately close to the word <Busu> which, I am afraid, indeed means Truly Ugly Girl. Since the Japanese are loath to embarrass one by pointing out mistakes, they are likely to let you go on babbling about Draft Buildings and On Time Ugly Women for as long as you want to talk about them.

 

It gets much worse.

 

<Oshiire> is closet, while <oshiri> is butt. I’m sure many a neophyte has complained to their landlord that “their butt won’t close.”

 

Just today, while role-playing the part of a restaurant customer with my Japanese teacher – a sweet old lady, I might add; I committed a classic. Attempting to order a nutritious meal, I do believe I asked my teacher (who was playing the part of the waitress) for chicken, salad and a side of penis. You see, <oshinko> is a pickle while <ochinko> is not. She looked at me, blinked once, twice, smiled sweetly and kindly suggested that the word I was looking for was oSHinko. I just now looked up my mistake. If you have dyslexic tendencies like I do, stay away from Japanese or at least try not to order pickles.

 

This last example brings up an interesting linguistic point; Bloopers are not reflexive. Want a pickle and ask for a penis, you are in trouble. Want a penis and ask for a pickle, you will probably get what you want.

 

Finally, I just today realized why the women in the hotel gave me that long, puzzled stare when I asked for an 8:00AM wake-up call. You see <okoshite> means ‘wake me’ while <okashite> means ‘rape me’.

 

Well, what can you do except smile and hope you are telling the old lady on the subway to take your seat (<suwaru>) and not asking her to feel you (<sawaru>).

 

Jeers from Japan.

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