I can't believe no-one told me about the CHILDES database of "transcript and media data collected from conversations between young children and their playmates and caretakers." Here's a short conversation from the Japanese section:

1022	*TAI:	poppo [>] . 
1023	%mor:	n:mot|poppo=train .
1024	*TMO:	sore [<] kyuukyuusha da yo . 
1025	%mor:	n:deic:dem|sore n|kyuukyuusha v:cop|da&PRES ptl:fina|yo .
1026	*TAI:	kjekje@u [: kyuukyuusha] . 
1027	%mor:	n|kyuukyuusha .
1028	*TMO:	un . 
1029	%mor:	co:i|un .
1030	*TMO:	kyuukyuusha . 
1031	%mor:	n|kyuukyuusha .
1032	*TMO:	pipopipopipopipoo@o tte . 
1033	%mor:	onoma|pipopipopipopipoo ptl:quot|tte .
1034	*TAI:	&=laugh . 
1035	*TAI:	poppo . 
1036	%mor:	n:mot|poppo=train .

(Transcription format details [PDF].)

"Train!" "That's an ambulance." "Ambwa." "Right, an ambulance. It goes 'Wee-oo-wee-oo-wee-oo-wee-oo.'" "Haha!... [But seriously,] train." In another transcript this same kid shakes his mother down for two hundred yen while the researcher eggs him on. Confucius wept.

In related news, did you know that out west when parents play peekaboo with their kids, they say "Oran, oran, otta" instead of "Inai, inai, baa"? That's what you get for linking the game to verb forms, I guess. It would be fun if it varied by region in the English-speaking world, too: "Fuckin' peekaboo as, mate," for Oceania, "Hey! I'm peekin' a boo here!" for New York...


Big Brother is plusunnew

So I open up the fridge the other day and see this:


That is to say: "Potato purée for sandwiches — 11/10 — Big brother." What?

Turns out that "big brother" is restaurant slang for "the older of two otherwise identical perishable items," e.g. two batches of the same potato purée. It's more properly aniki (an earthier way of saying "big brother" that a bunch of English-speaking people learned in 2000); the person who wrote this particular note was being cute.

This is a useful piece of jargon for people working in a restaurant kitchen. You need to be able to shout instructions to people about relative age without your customers freaking out because you said "Yo, use up the old sauce first!" Plus, if you work in a restaurant in Japan you probably aren't going to have time to ever see your real family. Figurative brotherhood among yesterday's carrots is better than nothing.

Interestingly, the pronunciation of aniki in this sense differs from that of the standard aniki. In the Tokyo accent, aniki-as-in-actual-brother is accented on the first mora, but when used to describe food, it has no accent at all: it's 平板 or "flat." I wondered whether this might be because the word's origins lie outside Tokyo; my wife disagrees and thinks that the pitch difference is caused by the word's appropriation as jargon. (Anyone from outside the Tokyo area got any thoughts on this?)


House of Godzilla

Regular readers will know that I am one of those annoying chaps who mercilessly wrings language errors of all possible implications, rather than doing the polite thing and allowing them to pass without comment. But, regular readers, Ri assure rou that I am a level 20 Tact Elemental compared to "Rudyard" and his Gojira no yakata (誤字等の館, "house of Godzilla/mistaken characters").

Take, f'rex, his recent examination of 嫌顔でも (iyagao demo, "even with a face expressing displeasure"), which as I write this returns 7,390 Google hits, only a few of which seem to be meta-commentary like the linked page.

The short version: it is an eggcorn of 否が応でも (iya ga ō demo, literally perhaps "even if 'no' is 'yes'," idiomatically "whether yes or no" → "no matter what"; see also 否でも応でも). Rudyard covers not only this, and various related topics, he also digresses at length on the phrase 弥が上にも (iya ga ue ni mo, "even more"), which sounds somewhat similar to iya ga ō demo and is apparently often confused with it.

Other examples chosen more or less at random:

  • トレビアの泉 (torebia no izumi) — should be トリビアの泉 (toribia [Trivia] no izumi); error probably caused by confusing surrounding the original pun on Trevi (torebi) Fountain, plus leakage from the French très bien &rarr torebian.
  • 申し訳け mōshiwake — extraneous け makes your apology look carelessly thrown together and therefore insincere.
  • 少しづつ sukoshi zutsu — づ instead of ず, evidence of non-acceptance or non-understanding of modern kana rules, under which this kind of thing would only be possible if つつ were an independent word (which it isn't).

Confession: I am actually guilty of that last one. The cause in my case is non-acceptance, rooted in an almost incontrollable orthographic foppery.


Sloar vs Toad

So I was watching Ghostbusters with Japanese subtitles on, and I noticed something interesting in the scene where Louis (the Keymaster) arrives at GHQ and catches Egon up on what's going on.

Gozer the Traveler. He will come in one of the pre-chosen forms. During the rectification of the Vuldronaii, the Traveler came as a large and moving Torb! Then, during the third reconciliation of the last of the Meketrix supplicants, they chose a new form for him: that of a giant Sloar! Many Shubs and Zulls knew what it was to be roasted in the depths of the Sloar that day, I can tell you!

Here are the subtitles for this rant (by Toda Natsuko, natch), with literal English backtranslation.

ゴーザがある形をとって現れる/ ボルド人を破滅させた時は巨大なナメクジ/ マケトレ人の第3回征服の時は—/ 口から火を噴くイボガエル/ マケトレ人はその炎に焼かれてマケた

Gozer will come in a certain form/ When he destroyed the Vuld people, it was a giant slug/ At the third subjugation of the Maketore people/ It was a fire-breathing toad/ Roasted in the flames, the Maketore people were defeated (maketa)

It still provides the same plot info (Gozer is coming, apocalypse will follow), but the humor has been almost entirely removed. A nerd getting all worked up about "Torbs" and "Sloars," that's comedy. The scraps of context are menacing, but the words are gibberish. Close that gap, and it just sounds like a lazy attempt at myth-making.

Also note that the gloating remark about Shubs and Zulls being "roasted in the depths of the Sloar," one of my favorite in the film (although I only just now learned how to spell all the words in it) has changed into a straight-up and rather forced pun.

Why would Toda do this? Granted that her position in the industry means that she can do pretty much anything she wants, whenever she wants, I do think that she had a specific goal in mind here: to avoid throwing too many made-up words at the reading audience at once. X-jin might get a pass because it can immediately be understood as an ethno- or demonym (whether you know what X is or not), but "Sloar" is tougher: What did that subtitle say, "Sloar"? Is that a real thing? Sounds Dutch, maybe... And you know that the audience was busy enough during this movie's theatrical release, buying hypercolor sweaters and visiting the newly-opened Tokyo Disneyland.

(Confession: I myself as a child assumed that the peoples and things featured in the Keymaster's ravings would be found in a sufficiently comprehensive reference work. I also thought that "Stay Puft" was a real brand of marshmallows available in the faraway and exotic United States of America.)

Just for kicks, I checked out the dubbed version of this line and found that it was much closer to the original:

時を旅する者、ゴーザがこの世界に現れるのだ。かつてバルドロナイを征服した時、ゴーザは巨大なトーブに姿を変えた。そして、メケトリックスの嘆願に応じ、三度目の和解が実現した時、新しい姿となった——巨大なスローアだ! シャブやズールの多くがその時のスローアの恐ろしさを今も語りぐさとしている。

Gozer, the Traveler in Time, will appear in this world. When in the past he subjugated the Vuldronaii, Gozer changed his form to a giant Torb. Then, when in response to the supplications of the Meketrix the third reconciliation was realized, he took a new form: that of a giant Sloar! Many a Shub and Zull tells tales even now of the horror of the Sloar that day.

Also, during the party scene at Louis's place, Toda saw fit to translate "Twister" as "group-sex game" (乱交ゲーム). Dude! I know that it got called "sex in a box" back in the 60s, but...


Only Chikamatsu

Up now at Néojaponisme: the first part of Ryan Morrison's literally (YES, LITERALLY) dramatized History of Modern Japanese Literary Criticism.

Takayama Chogyū: The most we can hope for in this life, friends, is the satisfaction of desire. Ethics should be replaced with aesthetics, animalism, sex, love. Away with the tradition, with Saikaku, with Genroku haiku. Only Chikamatsu should be spared, for he espoused a kind of proto-individualism, and his young sensuous heroines were quite vivid. Where are the great critics of our age? Where is our Tolstoy, our Whitman, Ibsen, or Zola? We haven’t any, I’m afraid; here are only obsequious flatterers.

Tayama Katai: I dig your egoism, Chogyū, but I still detect a romantic sensibility in your style. In prose writing, let us have plain delineation (heimen byōsha) and scientific naturalism. (Which means, in practice, that I get to describe in great detail my obsession with pre-nubile girls (shōjobyō)!)

Funny story: When Ryan wrote this, it was ripped from the morning headlines. We really need to step up our edit process.

Another link! A dude named Gary asked me to post a link to his history of the kokeshi doll, and I thought, why not? (That All-Japan Kokeshi Exhibition must have been a pretty wild party.)


Mask de guard

Examine this package closely.

I put it to you that the de in "マスク de ガード" ("mask de guard") can be interpreted as Japanese, Chinese, or French/Portuguese/Spanish/"Rumanian", and still produce a parsable if eccentric brand name.


The taming of the harp

Interesting aside in Japanese Wikipedia regarding Beethoven:

... [I]n Japan, he is sometimes referred to as gakusei (楽聖, "saint of music"). In modern times, [this word] has come to be applied to other musicians as well, simply meaning "master musician," but originally it referred to Beethoven. For example, gakusei-ki ("anniversary of the death of the gakusei") is observed on March 26, the day of Beethoven's death.

No idea whether this claim is true, although even if it is gakusei can't have been exclusive for all that long; no later than 1929, MURAOKA Hiroshi 村岡博 was using it in the most general sense possible in his Japanese translation of OKAKURA Kakuzō 岡倉覚三's Book of Tea was using it in the most general sense possible:




Have you heard the Taoist tale of the Taming of the Harp?

Once in the hoary ages in the Ravine of Lungmen stood a Kiri tree, a veritable king of the forest. It reared its head to talk to the stars; its roots struck deep into the earth, mingling their bronzed coils with those of the silver dragon that slept beneath. And it came to pass that a mighty wizard made of this tree a wondrous harp, whose stubborn spirit should be tamed but by the greatest of musicians.

In any case, the argument from ki is particularly unconvincing. Akutagawa's deathday is known as kappa-ki (河童忌), but as far as I know he's not even personally considered a kappa, let alone the kappa.


At Karuizawa

I went to Karuizawa! So here is a surreal little Taisho 14 (1925) piece by Akutagawa called "At Karuizawa" (軽井沢で).

In a black horse the scenery is reflected.

Let us eat our morning bread with the China pink.

This gang of angels uses phonograph records for wings.

On the edge of town, a chestnut tree. Underneath it ink is spilt.

Scratch at the blue mountain. Bars and bars of soap will tumble out.

In the English paper wrap a pumpkin.

Someone is painting honey on that hotel.

Madame M. — On her tongue a butterfly is sleeping.

Mister F. — His forelock begs for alms.

Mister O. — That beard must be an ostrich feather.

Words of the poet S.M. — Indeed, the pampas ears are fur.

A certain parson's face — A navel!

A road that slips between the napkins and the lace.

The moon over Mount Usui; — On the moon, too, moss grows lightly.

The death of Madame H.; — The fog is like the ghost of France.

The horse-flies swarmed off around Mercury.

So loud that hammocks are felt in the brow.

The thunder hotter than pepper.

A mountain with a rock called "the Giant's Seat"; — One unblinking face shows.

That house has pink gums.

Garnish mutton with fern leaves.

Farewell. Town of accordions, farewell, my lyric age.

The bit about muttons and ferns is a play on words that doesn't translate: shida ("fern") is written with the usual Classical Chinese ateji 羊歯, "sheep's tooth."

Anyway, Karuizawa is still basically like that, although nowadays about 40% of the storefronts there are branches of either Choudumeya (sausage shop; name literally means "the Gut-Stuffery" [although, to be fair, chōzume ("stuffed guts") is a respectable old Japanese word for "sausages", so "the Sausage Shop" is a more reasonable if less entertaining translation]) or Atelier de fromage (guess).