Japanese Culture and Daily Life

In TJF Newsletter no 26, published in September 2002, we took up the topic of young people's language. This second installment introduces more expressions currently in use mainly by high school students in Japan.
Please keep in mind that the expressions introduced in our Young People's Language feature are reserved for use in informal situations and in the context of close relationships, such as between friends. Should you misjudge a situation and use these expressions in the wrong context, you could run the risk of offending someone or even destroying good relations. Many young people in their teens and twenties who pepper their language with expressions such as these are the target of criticism for having no grasp of conventional ways of talking and for the low level of their speech.
By knowing young people's language, however, you can turn to informal expressions that can convey your desire for closeness with others, and for an open and honest relationship based on expression of true feelings.
In any language, you must consider carefully that the way you talk will affect your image. By providing an introduction to these patterns of speech, we would like you to get a taste for the lively colloquial way young people speak and communicate their thoughts in their everyday lives.

 getto suru

"I've already snagged the newest cell phone!"
("I have already got the newest type of mobile phone.")

Word derived from the English word "get," used in Japanese specifically to acquire something desired. It is also used to signify success in one's flirtations with the opposite sex; to "get the girl" or "get the guy."


"My boyfriend bailed out on our date yesterday. I was so bummed."
("My date yesterday fell through when my boyfriend called at the last minute to say he couldn't come. I was so disappointed.")

Dota is an abbreviation of dotanba de (at the last minute) and kyan is short for the English word cancel (kyanseru). Dotanba de kyanseru means cancelling at the last moment. When someone else is canceling on the speaker it is dotakyan sareru, but when the speaker is doing the canceling it becomes dotakyan suru.


"That bum Takashi; he's addicted to videogames and never comes to school."
("Takashi has become so involved in videogames that he no longer comes to school.")

Originally, hamaru means "to fit exactly into a frame or hole." Here it means "to get caught up in something and be unable to get out," or "to be utterly absorbed in an activity." It is also used to refer to the inability to extricate oneself from a group, like a club or a job; meeting with misfortune; the deterioration of a situation; and so on.


"Japanese class was so fun. Sato-sensei is beyond interesting."
("Japanese class was really enjoyable. Sato-sensei is fascinating.")

The state of exceeding a certain degree. Meaning: "exceedingly," "very." Aside from the usual negative connotation, young people's use of sugi can also carry a positive meaning.


"I've been so busy lately, it's a real panic."
("I've been so busy lately I'm in a total panic.")

Taken from the English word "panic," this is a shortened form of the phrase panikku ni naru. It means to become panicked, confused, dismayed, disorganized, or mixed up.
Photo:Hongo Jin

Take a look at some of these other expressions young people use!
(The following are only the web site)
 samu, samui

"Hey! Don't put your "foot on" the "futon!"
"Oh, that's horrible."
("Hey! Don't put your "foot on" the "futon!" "Hey! That's not funny at all.")

This is a pun on the sound of the word "futon" and "futtonda" (lit., flew off).

Samu originally means "samui," or "cold," but carries other connotations: boring, unattractive, a dud or something that doesn't have its intended effect; something forced or unnatural, cheerless, a let-down. It is the comment often made after listening to a bad joke or silly pun. Sometimes the jokester knows it's awful and beats the listener to the punch by saying it himself. It is also a word a person who has told a joke may be heard to murmur after getting no reaction to a joke. Synonymous with hiku [retreat].


"Tomorrow's big marathon is gonna be such a drag."
("Tomorrow's big marathon will be a real waste of time and I'm not looking forward to it.")

Tari is a truncated form of tarui, which comes from kattarui, meaning "to be tired and listless." Here it is preceded by the word cho, which amplifies it, as in "extremely" or "utterly. The speaker is not really tired and listless but expressing a lack of inclination to do something that is not interesting or fun.

"I told my boyfriend: 'You know-you're scum.'"
"Whoa, harsh! That's going too far."
("I told my boyfriend: 'You know-you're the worst.'"
"Oh dear, that's pretty mean. Haven't you gone too far?")

This term originates from the word kitsui, which indicates that someone's temperament or the degree of their behavior is harsh, rigid, unyielding, and grants others no lenience. "Pitiless and severe."
 tsukae ne

"Whatsa matter with you? You, you're really a waste of space."
("Can't you even do something so simple? You're not much good for anything.")

Adapted from shiyo ni taenai [not good for any purpose], it means "useless." Depending on the situation and the way it is delivered, the nuance changes. When used in irritation or anger, it is a serious insult and the nuance is quite rough and potent. Spoken in a lighter tone as a joke among friends, it can also express a sense of warmth and companionship.

Original text : The Japan Forum Newsletter no 28 "Japanese Culture Now", March 2003.

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