Monday, July 12, 2010

Children of the corn

Katakana throws me through a loop sometimes and encourages bad habits. When I can't think of a word in Japanese, I often throw a Japanese accent on it and hope for the best. The best being the other person understands what the hell I am babbling (or babbring?) about. I suppose this could be compared to visiting France with limited French knowledge and Frenchifying English words in the hopes it translates. That's not all though, I am terrible about pronouncing katakana words properly, which is easy for me to do when the Japanese word is close to the English original but with some unexpected vowels. I used to say shocoreto for chocolate, instead of chocoreto, throwing a continental spin on the first "ch" sound. I realized my mistake when ordering chocolate ice cream at Baskin Robbins and the woman behind the counter corrected me.

My Japanification of words does not always work, as I found when I tried to say masturbation with a Japanesque accent. The details of precisely why I was saying masturbation in Japanese are not important, but I did find out that the word is actually onani. This has its roots in some other language but I unfortunately cannot find the link I was looking for so you'll have to take my word for it. Incidentally, the word for fart is not faato, but onara. With so many titillating words crowding my head, it is easy to mix them up. Luckily however, asking "did you just masturbate?" when you wanted to say "did you just fart?" is not such a horrible mix-up, for you could probably safely ask the latter of someone you feel comfortable enough with to enquire after their gas. It's definitely not as bad as saying that you want to smoke some pole when you had intended to tell your boss that you wanted to eat chanko stew.

This past date night with the beau, we went to Corn-Barley in Shibuya, a dining bar with a wooden interior that has a fairly impressive and cheap selection of bourbon. The name of this restaurant sounds (and looks) like corn valley in Japanese, and no matter how many times I am reminded that the name is actually Corn-Barley, it is forever imprinted in my mind as Corn Valley, so that each time we go there, I am surprised to learn that we are not visiting Corn Valley but Corn-Barley. This could also be an indication that my mind is turning into a sieve. I will leave you with a piece of advice: don't use "dining bar" to describe a dark moody restaurant that probably has a bar in addition to tables where you can partake in wine and food, to someone who doesn't live in Japan. It may be a handy term here to describe the plethora of trendy holes being dug all around Tokyo, but it's not actually English, contrary to what your mind might be telling you.

*I realize my feed has not been working, probably because I fucked with it. I think I may have fixed it, but if not, kindly let me know.


selena said...

Feed seems to be fixed.

Onani from onanism, which is actually English. Fancy way of saying jackin' off.

kathrynoh said...

Feed is working :)

Katakana is pants. I was told I should understand katakana cos it's used for English words (by a Japanese person). Umm yeah cos it makes so much sense...

Green-Eyed Geisha said...

selena: That's actually what I thought but I couldn't find any reference to it when I checked last night. All that came up was stuff about German...

kathrynoh: I actually find it kind of interesting but it's a pain in the ass to write. There are so many non-English loan words too, that you're right, the meaning often never matches our expectations!

Anonymous said...

Ha! I love it. I have the same problem with First Kitchen. I misread it First Chicken, which somehow became Fast Chicken, and now I call it Quick Chicken... which nobody ever gets but me... and it's really not that funny when you explain it.

Julie Lavoie said...

When I studied Japanese 101, I was surprised to find that the Japanese word for many English things is pretty much that thing in English, with a thick Japanese accent applied, like pantesu, whiseku, suteki .... LOLZ.

The accent trick also works with Thai. Sometimes people don't even understand the proper prononciation of the word ... "I'd like strawberry icecream, please" will you get blank stares, but if you say "se-te-raw-be-ly!" with a super annoying rising tone on the last syllable -- everyone will understand.

I can't even say those words without laughing, even now!

liza f said...

a bit about Onan here

Anonymous said...

Did you know that the uvula (the dangly bit at the back of the throat) is called "nodo no chinko" (literally 'throat's penis') in Japanese?
I thought it was the funniest thing ever when I first heard someone use the expression.

ELSN said...

Wait wait, "Dining Bar" isn't English? Oh god, I forgot. Next you'll be telling me that "going to a Live," is unnatural.

Also, is "boom," sort of Japanese English too? I used the phrase, "Jogging is a boom," to an American traveling to Japan for work, and he looked at me like I was a crazy woman.

Daeva said...

I’m good at unimportant trivia but the word actually came from Onan, a biblical character who did not conceive children with his wife which did not prevent him from leaving an important trace as a role model when the word was associated to the actual practice in the English language. So the root of the word is Hebrew when the suffix isn't.

And when my Japanese is not at all that good, I knew this word. XD Must be the down-face of practicing with lyrics from underground loud rock bands : to know how to say “masturbation”, “suicide” and “weeping alone in the eternal darkness” before to know how to place an order in a restaurant. When the suicide or masturbation part could come up in some conversations, I have found the "weeping alone in the eternal darkness" part not especially helpful. But maybe I'm just this kind of person.

Tako Hostil said...

Words like 「サザン・テラス」 make me do a facepalm when I finally find out what they mean (in this case, Southern Terrace, seen at Shinjuku Station). Oddly, sometimes I learn the origin of these words faster than some native speakers of English.

Foggia said...

Same for me as for most English speakers apparently : Don't like katakana at all.
Can't even read it as fast as hiragana or kanji, actually.

But it's funny how this actually puzzles regular Japanese people that usually follow the assumption that it's for foreign words so easy for foreign people.

I used to "create" a lot of Japanese this way, but didn't want to get stuck with it, so started using a lot of Japanese words... that in the end Japanese people themselves apparently don't use so much, or just for writing, like

So I just sound weird in the end.
Hard to find a middle ground...

melintheglitter said...

hi, i just read through your entire blog (in a few sittings, i admit) and was very very entertained.
so, i decided to follow it. hope you don't mind ^^
keep writing! (you do it so well~)

wakanai said...

>>The details of precisely why I was saying masturbation in Japanese are not important

euh... I for one would like to know :)
(Does that sound weird? Am I alone?)

It looks like everyone seems to feel the same about katakana and how to create your own version when necessary.
The other day I came across ボゥボ...
Come on, be serious, if you want to talk about Volvo, just say... Volvo!

Green-Eyed Geisha said...

sherdie: That is funny and I do the same thing with a local bento place. I love how the locals call First Chicken "fukkin" here.

Julie: Funny! I do it too much sometimes, I just get lazy and start saying shit in English with a Japanese accent.

Anon: I didn't but thank you! I am totally working that into my conversation this week. :) I think the word for nipple is really cute so this is excellent vocab for my repetoire.

ELSN: I think boom can be used like that, eg. economic boom, but unfortunately for us living here, "mai boomu/my boom" doesn't translate in English!

Daeva: I just snickered out loud at the "crying in the eternal darkness" bit. Kind of how I feel at the Kaisha some days :)

Tako Hostil: Ah yes, the famous Shinjuku promenade. You probably have a better ear than the natives. I've found myself repeating katakana in all sorts of bizarre accents, trying to figure out what it means!

Foggia: I appreciate the way katakana can be used to emphasize stuff or for the laughs it gives me, but yeah, too much of it is not always a good thing. I find it interesting that some politicians come under fire for using too much katakana in their speeches.

melintheglitter: Thank you for stopping by (and staying a while)!!!

wakanai: There's always one :) With the way I speak in English, it should come as no surprise that I discuss masturbation in Japanese...right?! The "v" in katakana KILLS me, especially when I am ordering vodka.

Michelle said...

Even though it's a bit late... But I can say, yes, onani comes from the german word Onanie, which pronounces just the same and means masturbation. Could be logical also, since a lot of german medical terms were adapted into japanese. Like runge for example, which comes from Lunge, meaning lung.
Greetings from a german person ^^

Green-Eyed Geisha said...

Hey Michelle, yeah there seem to be a lot of German loan words in Japanese. I think the first one I knew was "baito" for part-time job. Somewhere along the way I also learned that karte (spelling?) "karute", which refers to medical charts/history, is from German so you are definitely on to something with the medical terms thing!