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?)

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I just want to know what kind of sandwich has potato purée in it.

Leonardo Boiko:

Hot dogs here in Brazilian often include potato purée.


I seem to remember potato puree as typically one type of sandwich in a set. Like one half (sliced diagonally) would be potato purée in it, and the other half would be plain ham.

Yes, I did live off of conbini food, why do you ask?


I think your wife's hunch is right in that the accent is different because it is used as slang, Cf. クラブ


As someone with some knowledge of linguistics and a little knowledge of Japanese, can I propose the following explanation? (Of the accent discrepancy, not of a desire for potato purée in sandwiches.)

I think your wife and Peter are halfway there but we can give a fuller story.

The main plank of my theory is that "big brother" in these circumstances is not simply "big brother" but is actually short for a compound along the lines of "big brother item". Nobody ever bothers to say the "item" bit though (there are plenty of examples of similar shortcuts from colloquial English).

The second premise of my syllogism is the fact that (I read) the first part of a compound noun in Japanese loses any accent it may have had as an independent noun. A second component with the right properties can cause an accent to end up on the last syllable of the first noun (e.g. Ameriká-jin) but this is not really a case of the first noun retaining accent in any way - basically, any accent it had independently is lost.

So in "big brother" as restaurant jargon, we have a word that speakers subconsciously know is the first half of a compound, even though they're not bothering with the second half, and hence they pronounce it accentlessly.

Compare the famous "Maple Leafs" example from English - the members of this sports team might individually be called a "Maple Leaf", but this is really short for "Maple Leaf player", or some such; the plural of this would be "Maple Leaf players", with no alteration of "Leaf" to "Leave-", and the same remains true when the "player" bit gets left out, so the plural of "Maple Leaf" is "Maple Leafs" rather than "Maple Leaves".

Myriam Belfer:

"Figurative brotherhood among yesterday's carrots is better than nothing." It maked me laugh a lot... and maked me hungry... : )


I just want to know what kind of sandwich has potato purée in it.

A delicious one, as a visit to my wife's café would amply demonstrate! Open 11:30-18:00 Tue-Sat.

Peter: Can you expand on that "club" thing? I can't think of any slang meanings there. (I'm not sure that it would be a good example, though, because English loanwords have notoriously unstable pitch accent patterns.)

Tom: Thanks for the long hypothesis! I like the Maple Leafs analogy, but I'm not sure about the rest. There's no evidence that it was originally part of a compound (like "anikimono", or whatever) or that a compound is implied -- but I do agree with the idea that, somehow (maybe by moving the referent from the world of people to the world of things), the first-mora accent has been removed and the word has "defaulted" to no accent, same way as the Maple Leafs default to plain -s for plural.


"Maple Leafs" is not English. It's Canadian.

I love potatoes but the idea of using them in sandwiches, in large amounts, is a little weird.


Potatoes in sandwiches? Oh my God...

Tim May:

Hey, Matt, I think your RSS feed's broken. I haven't got any updates since "Mask de guard".


We're talking accents in a class on phonetics (for Japanese as a Foreign Language teachers), and an example very much like this Aniki - ANIKI situation came up.
In one of the more mountainous prefectures in the east (can't remember which) KUMA (with a flat 平板 accent)denotes a friendly cuddly bear, such as a teddy bear or a cartoon figure, whereas KUma denotes a ferocious feral beast that comes at you with claws and teeth.


Ha, that's great. And that JFL class--is that in Sweden, or Japan, or what?

(Tim: I fixed it. Thanks for the heads-up!)


The class is at 東京外国語大学.
It's called 日本語教育のための音声トレーニング and is aimed at undergrad 日本語教育 majors.

Not so dense with information on phonetics (to be expected in a class for 学部生), it is still very interesting for it's lesson on language ideology. I shall try to illustrate with a religious analogy.

There is a sacred text that teaches the truth (NHK - アクセント辞典). However, nobody lives according to truth except the high priests (NHK announcers) and over-zealous acolytes (Chinese students of Japanese). You as low ranking priests (Japanese teachers) must however now the truth by heart so that you may live somewhat according to it, thus setting a good example for your acolytes (non-chinese students, if your students are Chinese you better watch those accents or else!).
Now go and preach unto the peoples of the world!

Axel the Clumsy Typist:

Please feel free to correct the obvious mistypings!

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