December 11, 2010 | Japanese

Japanese Vocabulary Lessons

I am confused, though not painfully so, by some new words.

Today as I was reading through the vocabulary list in the back of the grammar book I am using, Master the Basics: Japanese, I noticed that certain nouns in English were listed with two different Japanese equivalents, one of them marked as “polite.”

For example, hashi is listed as “chopsticks,” but so is a polite form, ohashi.

Polite? Or Insolent?

Polite? Or Insolent?

The polite form for “vegetables” is oyasai. Which made me contemplate the nature of rude vegetables: yasai.

Hon is plain old “book,” while gohon is the polite form of “book.” Now how can you be polite or impolite about a book? Unless you are throwing it at someone.

This issue will require more investigation.

Borrowed words from English can take on amusing forms in Japanese. Baburu is “bubble economy.” Poruno is pornography. Sekuhara is sexual harassment.

One of my very favorites is wanrumu manshon, which is “studio apartment.” That’s pretty funny until you consider the cost of studios in expensive cities around the world, at which point it starts to seem logical. (According to Prudential Douglas Elliman, the median price of a studio condo apartment in Manhattan last quarter was $455,000.)

On a final vocabulary note, if the word shiro is pronounced shee-roh, with pitch roughly even on the two syllables, it means “white.” If it is pronounced shee-ROH, with higher pitch on the capitalized syllable, it means “castle.” For me this immediately raised the the question, is there a White Castle in Japan, and if so, is it Shiro Shiro

Comments (1)

Kayle • Posted on Thu, April 19, 2012 - 1:17 pm EST

Actually, I think you would have to change the form to shiroi shiro. ^.^

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