Vagaries of Love (and Language)

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I can be an overly serious (or should I say severe) person, but I really love to make jokes. Whether they are humorous or not, you’ll have to ask the people I encounter. There are many kinds of joke to which the Japanese language lends itself well. Previously, I have mentioned the limited syllabary creating numerous homonyms for puns. Additionally, there is an extremely contextual nature to Japanese which allows humor based on vague misinterpretations.

A commercial for a network involved a woman going to an electric appliance shop with her flourescent light that wasn’t working. The young man at the shop expressed his deep regrets to her in extremely over-emotional language. Upon querying him for his reason for feeling so deeply, he replied:

Boku wa suki nan desu… (僕は好きなんです)

The implication here is that he has just professed his great love for her; however, in a Japanese sentence it is perfectly fine to not express the topic, or the subject, or the direct object, or the indirect object, or any other piece of information, including the verb. Try speaking English without verbs… you won’t get far. The decision to drop information allows some very quick communication, but the meaning of the sentences then change dramatically with context. In this case the man actually said: “Because I love…” and used a strengthening feeling on the end.

The actress attempts to show us a woman a little shocked, maybe a little pleased, and pondering what has just transpired, until the man adds: “Denki ga.” Here he has added what he loves, that being ‘electricity’ or ‘electronics’ – I’ll go with the latter.

We pretty much have to say, “Because I love you.” in English, so this gag is hard to pull off. We could put a long pause between ‘love’ and ‘you’, but the first part is not a complete sentence and would naturally leave us waiting for the other shoe to drop. This would create an awkwardness not present in the Japanese because the first part is considered a complete sentence (depending on context) not requiring any more.

One of my favorite ways to use this involves the fact that adjectives are often tossed out by themselves. We do this a bit in English as well. When someone says: cold, embarrassing, fat, etc., I can respond with, “dare ga?” (who?) and the appropriate expression and tone. Several commonly used words lend themselves well to this gag. If someone touches something cold, they might say, “tsumetai!” (冷たい) This can also be used to describe a cold-hearted person. A quick ‘dare ga?’ with a slightly shocked and offended look usually gets a good reaction. Of course, this gag can quickly get old as well.

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One Response to “Vagaries of Love (and Language)”

  1. simaldeff Says:

    I already used that with some japanese friends … although it wasn’t intended as a joke at first but I immediately noticed the humour in what I said. I used it after a “でかい” – or was it “おきい” (when they saw a monument I was making them visit here in Milan) … then I was answered … “君が” by the girls (although I can swear they never saw me in Adam-uniform) I gestured embarassment with the famoud “hand behind the head”.

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