A couple of Japanese-related posts caught my eye:

1) Matt at No-sword has a post about a document that “records the Shōwa Emperor’s decision not to visit the [Yasukuni] shrine because of the class-A criminals there”; he says:

…my attention was caught by the memo’s final phrase:

だから 私あれ以来参拝していない。 それが私の心だ
So, since then, I haven’t worshipped [at Yasukuni]. That is my kokoro.

Kokoro is a tough word to Englishify. To put that more accurately, it doesn’t map to English very neatly. Depending on context, it might be translated as “heart”, “spirit”, “soul”, “feeling”, “mind”, “mood”, “opinion”, “sensibility”, “hope”, “situation”, “meaning”, “plan”, “reason”, “center”, “topic”, and I’m sure there are others, and that’s only if you insist that the translation be a single noun like the source. For example, one of the articles I linked above goes with “feeling”, but this article translates the relevant phrase as “That is from my heart.”

Kind of reminds me of the dustman’s dumpling.

2) Meanwhile, Joel at Far Outliers has a post about what the sci.lang.japan page he links to calls “a relatively recent trend in Japanese slang… to shorten long words into two or three characters plus the inflectional ending i and make new i adjectives”; the adjective that started Joel off was “kimochi warui ‘unpleasant feeling’, which [a visiting Japanese college student] shortened to kimoi.” Since she was trying to render ‘gross, yucky,’ either the word has strengthened in negative connotation since Arthur Rose-Innes rendered kyō wa sukoshi kimochi ga warui as “I don’t feel quite well today” or “don’t feel quite well” is an example of that famous British understatement.

Incidentally, I was wondering exactly how old the Rose-Innes Vocabulary of Common Japanese Words is; my copy is a 1945 reprint of the 1942 first edition of the Yale revision of what is clearly a substantially older book, since the preface by George A. Kennedy says “The Vocabulary compiled by Arthur Rose-Innes is not merely the best of its kind, but practically the only Japanese-English vocabulary suitable for the beginning student… The principal defect of the work lies in the selection of words, many important modern terms, such as ‘airplane’, being lacking, while some of the included terms seem relatively non-essential.” I checked BookFinder.com, but the entries for earlier editions say things like “Yokohama Early edition Hard Cover,” leading me to suspect that the earlier ones were undated. Anybody know anything about the history of this useful little book (or, for that matter, of Mr. Rose-Innes himself)?


  1. There are two distinct meanings to kimochi warui. One is “feeling sick (or even ready to hurl)”, as in the Rose-Innes example. The other is “gross” or “revolting”. In this latter meaning, in writing the word is sometimes rendered with the “waru” part in katakana for added effect. As I recall, this half-katakana-ized kimochi warui was used in the books Juon by Oishi Kei (made into the Japanese film of the same title and the English film called “The Grudge”), as well as Kirino Natsuo’s Out. Both of these books had some seriously gross stuff.
    I think the examples where a word is cut down to a couple syllables, like kimoi from kimochi warui, are a bit tongue-in-cheek and used a bit more lightheartedly than their originals.

  2. I think there’s also a difference between the clause kimochi ga warui ‘(I’m) feeling ill’ (like guai ga warui ‘feeling unwell’) and the adjective kimochi-warui which could perhaps be rendered as ‘illness-inducing’.

  3. hallo, I stumbled upon your site quite accidentaly, whilst i was trying to find out how many langauges one could possibly be fluent in. I still haven’t found an answer, but your site surprised me. I didn’t know it was possible for people to learn so many languages fluently, although I had heard of “the french guy that translated the rosetta stone” (Champeaulion?).
    1) I thought this may interest you
    2) I was thinking of studying multiple languages, at the moment I’m learning Swedish, I speak English only. Though I’m semifluent in Swedish. I was wondering if you ever have trouble keeping the grammar and vocabulary seperate in different languages.
    3) I was wondering if you have any tips, for example, how you learnt so many langauges (From teachers? Using mainly books “DIY”? Spending time in foreign countries?), and how long it took you.
    4) I am very sorry if the answers are standing right in front of me on your page, but I haven’t the time to be leafing through everything as it’s getting slightly late here :P.

  4. Hi, Michael! Yeah, I remember that BBC story (on how being bilingual can “help to keep the brain sharper for longer”); I think I may have blogged it back when it came out. As for tips, all I can say is that it helps to have learned another language as a child, which you can’t do anything about at this point, but also it’s important to keep working on them, every day if possible. If you’ve learned one foreign language, it’s not that hard to learn others; I have no idea what the upper limit is. Good luck!

  5. […] “don’t feel quite well” is an example of that famous British understatement.
    Of course it is. Don’t you know that the British for “Quelle horreur!” is “That’s rather a nuisance”?

  6. If the sample population of the junior high school I teach at here is any indication, it’s a pretty broad trend. Though somehow I think it will take a while for any of these new adjectives to show up in foreign textbooks.
    I hear kimoi all the time, and the meaning definitely is on the “repellent, gross” side. The same kids still use “kimochi warui” for sickness.
    “Kishoi” (気性が悪い kishou ga warui)is another one, but a lot rarer than kimoi, though it means about the same, with less a focus on physical unattractiveness. The trend makes sense, I think–these phrases function like single adjectives most of the time anyway.
    What I’ve wondered is whether another related trend preceded or followed the “kimoi” wave. This is the one where they shorten longer native Japanese adjectives to the same two-syllable+”-i” form.
    Ex: muzukashii(difficult)–> muzui
    hazukashii (embarassing)–> hazui
    omosiroi (interesting) –> omoroi
    (can’t do omoi, which arleady exists: 重い heavy”)
    And I’ve heard onomatopoeic doublets shortened this way, too.
    Ex: moyamoya (foggy, plain, nondescript) –> moyai
    My untested and half-held personal theory is that some dialectical authentically short forms of adjectives longer in standard Japanese started it all, but it’s only a thought.

  7. Apologies. I really should have read the post you linked to. I ended up just duplicating about the same material. Sigh. Live and learn.

  8. Words don’t have meaning outside of context such as それが私の心だ . Dictionaries and glossaries may string out as many defining synonyms as they like, but that doesn’t mean that they all can be substituted for a specific contextual appearance of a word. Prior to reading this post, I would have read 心 in this context as “that is my intention.” Now my primary language is Korean and my understanding is informed by the Korean parallel of 마음 “maUm.” But, nevertheless, I think that in this contxt, “intention” is the best “Englishification.” I am of a mind to say so.
    Doc Rock

  9. Point taken, Doc Rock. What I was trying to get at (rather clumsily, I observe with shame) was that there is no way to translate this sentence into English and retain all the implications. This is obviously true of all translation to a degree, but when you’re dealing with a big, fuzzy, and distinctly Japanese abstraction like “kokoro” it becomes more so. On top of that is the context, which means that this memo will inevitably (and rightly, of course) attract attention from people who are interested in post-WWII Japanese attitudes to things like Yasukuni Shrine. Not all of those people will speak enough Japanese to read the original. Inevitably, some people will draw conclusions and support arguments based on how the translation they have renders the phrase. (This kind of argument already rages around whether or not certain official Japanese statements really constitute an apology, and, if so, a sincere and remorseful enough one.) Koizumi apparently referred to the memo, too, specifically quoting the word “kokoro”, and how his remarks are translated will complicate the story further. I thought it was a nice real-world example of how important translation can be.

  10. If the sample population of the junior high school I teach at here is any indication, it’s a pretty broad trend
    I think the kind of language kids use in jr. high is always different from adult language. A long time ago my linguistics teacher said the collection of words an individual will use–their idiolect–is in flux until the early 20s. In English, you don’t hear many people over fifty or sixty saying “Duuuude!” And they probably couldn’t say it without ironic affect.
    Remember that movie “Fast Times at Ridgemont High”, when Spiccoli looks at the autopsy corpse or whatever it was and said “Gnarly!” That was a funny moment, because that was an unusual use of the word for that time outside of surfer-dude talk, and also because Spiccoli is using the word without irony. In his idiolect he “owns” the word. Other people seeing the movie might repeat the word, but using it only with irony because they don’t “own” it.
    I think one sees the same things in other languages, like Japanese. Certain groups will own a term, and other groups will use it with affect. Eventually the younger groups may make it mainstream enough that others can use it without affect. Think of English “to dis”. Now that was originally Black English, and I’m guessing was adopted by suburban kids listening to rap, and then became mainstream. Some words make the jump; others don’t.

  11. James Crippen says

    Omoroi is probably imported from the Kansai dialects. One I heard recently is omoshii, derived from omoshiroi, in the sentence “un, kare omoshii deshō nē?” translated as “yeah, her boyfriend is ‘interesting’ isn’t he?” – they were talking about a girl and her boyfriend, which is why kare gets interpreted that way.

  12. “Kishoi” (気性が悪い kishou ga warui)is another one
    Btw, kishoi is abbreviation of kishoku ga warui, not kishou.

  13. It looks like your book was first published sometime in the 1920’s (seems not to have been dated) as Part III of Conversational Japanese for Beginners.

  14. Thanks!

  15. kokoro always reminds me of күкрәк:

    From Proto-Turkic *kök(i)rek (“chest, breast”).

    Note that the pleophonic form күкерәк (kükeräk) is also attested in Bashkir dialects.

    Cognate with Tatar күкрәк (kükräq), Kazakh көкірек (kökirek), Kyrgyz көкүрөк (kökürök), Karachay-Balkar кёкюрек (kökürek), Uzbek koʻkrak, Uyghur كۈكرەك‎ (kükrek), Turkmen kükrek (“chest, breast”), etc.

  16. kükräq: q is wrong.

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