I want more life, friend

In Japanese, if someone (incorrectly) says you're dead, you can respond with something that loosely translates as "Don't just kill me!" ("俺を勝手に殺すな!"). You can also complain on behalf of other people: "人を勝手に殺すな!"

This is obviously not the primary, literal sense of "kill" (殺す), because no-one actually physically dies. But on the other hand I don't think it's in the same category as metaphorical "killings" like "that guy just kills me".

Instead, I would interpret it as meaning something like "don't kill the representation of me in your discourse." So the killing is a literal ending of a life, but the life in question is not a physical one.

I don't think we can do that in English. The closest thing I can think of is saying something like "Do you think J.K. Rowling will kill Harry Potter in the last book?", but I'm not sure if that can apply to non-fictional characters too: "In my new alternate history, I kill Hitler at age 10" seems a bit off to me. (And actually I would strongly prefer "kill off" in both cases, not "kill".)

And either way, I'm pretty sure that we can't talk about rhetorical killings that take place in spoken conversation rather than carefully constructed prose. But I could be wrong. Anybody?

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I agree that it means "don't kill the representation of me in your discourse." The only thing I can think of to explain this is that killing the representation of someone in your discourse just doesn't come up as much in conversation outside of Japan. I've heard that usage of "kill" in Japan but not elsewhere, despite only living here less than 3 years total. From which we can draw the conclusion that telling a story in which your friends die is just not a popular pasttime outside of Japan? I, personally, wouldn't tell such a story - it would be rude. In our culture we probably have a taboo about speaking of living people as dead that isn't as strong in Japan. Which seems odd considering that symbolic language is invested with more power in Japan in other ways.

Pascale Soleil:

Hey, we're Western capitalists. We say, "Don't write me off."

It's an accounting metaphor! (Or, if you misconstrue, a literary metaphor).


Ohh, that is true -- I would never tell my parents "Die!" but you see that all the time in Japanese fiction and it seems to be treated as a fairly normal thing for a rebellious teen to say. (I don't think I've ever even used the circuitous but ultimately aimed-at the-same-place "go to hell" on my folks.)

Even given that there aren't as many situations it _could_ be used in, though, I still don't think that English "kill" _can_ be used that way. Even in a situation that is as (un)likely in English as Japanese ("I don't want you to see him. You ran off right after he was born and haven't been back in fifteen years. I told him you were dead.") it's hard to imagine a reply of "Don't just kill me!" in English.

Or maybe the issue is the "me"...

Pascale: that's true... hmm..


What if you just told your arch-conservative waspish father that you were really, really gay, and that you were eloping to Canada with your lover Juan, and he said something like, "You're dead to me" THEN I think you could probably get away with an at least mildly appropriate "Don't just kill me!" Although you'd probably be more likely to just stare at each other for an unbelievably tense coupla seconds while mother cried in the corner and the violin music swelled.


Yeah, I've said a lot of awful things to my mother, but I would never tell her "Die!" - unthinkable.

I don't think "Don't just kill me" would be an appropriate reply to "You're dead to me" in English. I have to conclude that you're right, we can't use "kill" in that way in English. The first time I heard it in Japanese, I did a double take for a second, then realized, oh yeah, that makes sense - to kill means "to cause to die," which is what happened. But "kill" in English either means physically kill, or metaphorically kill in certain set expressions, such as "killing with kindness".

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