Odori Park, by Chris Watkins Odori Park - A webcomic comedy of culture shock in love, life, and family, by Chris Watkins


:: Posts Tagged ‘language’ ::

(Note: This may not actually turn out to be a weekly feature, but if it does, as far as the title goes, I’m covered.)

Monday’s strip calls to attention the ancient Japanese literary craft of haiku, practiced for generations by high school English classes around the world. As part of this strip, Arisa mentions the words moji and kigo. I think context clues provide sufficient understanding for the gag (specifically, that you don’t need to understand them), but for the curious:

A kigo is a word that evokes the image of a particular season. Cherry blossom (sakura), for example, is evocative of Spring. The moon (tsuki) is often considered representative of Autumn. Images of winter might be summoned by the sounds of a man whose car just slid into a ditch (kuso!).

Moji means “syllable.” I don’t have any jokes for that.

Anyone who watches anime is deeply familiar with the word baka, and all its delightfully insulting connotations. Sometimes translated as the overly eloquent “fool,” baka, to me, is more appropriately interpreted as “idiot,” or, my personal fave, “dumba$$.” Why bring this up today? Let me explain via example:

Japanese: Jikko de dehtabehsu no pahsuwahdo wo kawatte, jibun no saito wo kawaru hito ha kitto baka da.

English: Any person who breaks his own site by accidentally changing the database password is clearly a dumba$$.

Bad Japanese words were among the first things I learned in that language (primarily a vulgar phrase which shall go unrepeated here). There’s some sort of fascination folks seem to have with foul language in foreign tongues–like knowing it gives you the secret key to getting away with something naughty. I, for example, can say “poop” in languages for which I know precious little useful vocabulary. (Granted, cursing in foreignese may be exceedingly useful if you’re a street-brawling sailor, or Yosemite Sam). My wife has, at times, exhibited an unhealthy interest in proper pronunciation and usage of English curses. (Could be she’s saving up for a future fall-down drag-out marital spat.) My friends (yes, I’m looking at you, Mark) have not helped matters much.

But the real kicker is that, to my experience, bad words in Japanese aren’t really all that bad. I would regularly hear phrases from my elementary school students (back when I was teaching English) that, if translated, would curl the hair of folks back home to hear from a mouth still attached to short pants, but my Japanese co-instructors wouldn’t bat an eye. And the kids learned a lot of it from pre-teen anime. In Japanese, it seems, it’s far worse to address someone using the incorrect politeness level than to discuss with them what comes out of a bull’s rear end.

Which, all in all, left me feeling cheated. I mean, I studied hard to learn that kuso!

Speaking of words good and bad, Odori Park got a few very nice words from the Digital Strips blog this week. Thanks for the kind mention!

Being among the last geeks in America to see the Star Trek movie, I hope you’ll indulge the following, as it’s currently top of mind. <Claven>It’s a little known fact</Claven> that (at least, according to my wife, whom I have no reason to doubt), in Japan, Star Trek’s Mr. Sulu is not Mr. Sulu, but, in fact, Mr. Kato.

This makes sense when you realize that Sulu is not, by any means, a standard Japanese name. (At least, not as far as my experience goes.) That isn’t to say it doesn’t translate. It does, in fact, mean something in Japanese. It means “do.”

By process of logic, then, this means that–had the Japanese not changed Mr. Sulu’s name when importing Star Trek many stardates ago–Mr. Sulu would effectively be Mr. Do.

Also, rumor has it the Klingons were wholesale replaced by koopa troopas.

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