2017/01/30 What's On
Useful Japanese Slang
by Jordan Mounteer
Just like any language, Japanese is always evolving, and nowhere is this seen better than in the youth cultures that make up a huge demographic of the population. And while Japanese has various degrees of formality that correspond to politeness, so too does it have its own vocabulary of slang and idioms, and for foreigners who come to Japan these can sometimes be the most confusing – that’s because, as a rule, these ways of communicating are not often taught by language schools, and the only way you get exposure to slang or idioms is through talking to and interacting with other Japanese. That said, we want to look at a few everyday ‘short-hand’ phrases that you’re likely to hear on a daily basis and how to use them yourself.
Meccha (めっちゃ) – this adverb basically means “extremely” and can be used to emphasize something that is very important, large, or over the top. In general, you often hear people say “Sugoku” which has a similar meaning, but “Meccha” is a bit more conversational and a great way to add some spice and emotion to a comment or observation. This term is more common in the Kansai region, so don’t be surprised if you get some strange looks if you try using it elsewhere (although, usually, this will simply inform people that you are speaking a Kansai dialect).
KY (けいわい) – short for Kuki Youmenai, this acronym is often applied to someone who is socially awkward or can’t take a hint, although it’s usually in a joking matter. In essence, it translates literally to “unable to read the air”, which suggests that someone isn’t able to pick up on the atmosphere of a social situation and either is prone to saying or doing something inappropriate or is apt to making a fool of themselves in a public situation.
Bimyo (びみょう) – this is a good phrase if you want to respond to something but in a way that is vague or leaves something to the imagination. Essentially, it’s a subtle way of giving a negative opinion of something. For example, if someone asked you how your lunch was or what it was like to meet a new person and it wasn’t enjoyable, you could use this phrase to describe it as being ‘weird’ or ‘unfavorable’ without sounding too harsh.
Majide (まじで) – one of the easiest slang to learn and to use, this is the equivalent of someone in English hearing a story and replying with “Really?” It is meant to convey astonishment, but it’s also a good way to reassure someone you’ve heard and understood them, and can also help to show that you’re interested in what they’re saying and encourage them to continue.
Shareteru (しゃれてる) – there are a number of ways to use this verb, but it definitely has a positive connotation. If you want to say that something was good, for example, or that someone is good at something this is a good off-hand verb that can be used on its own (as long as the initial observation has already been made – for instance, if you’re watching a classmate or colleague excel at a task, go ahead and spring this one on them!).
Ikarateru (いかれてる) – conversely, if you’re hanging out with friends, it is really common (especially among teenagers) to playfully rib one another, and this verb does exactly that. A literal translation would be like calling someone ‘weird’ or ‘odd’, but again among friends this can be used as a term of endearment, similar to showing amazement – “Wow, you’re crazy!” Additionally, you might also hear a variant form such as atama itteru (頭いってる) which has the same meaning.
Zurui (ずるい) – if you ever wanted a good term for calling out someone when they’ve done something tricky, cunning, or (in some cases) just downright clever, this is the perfect word for expressing your thoughts. Although it could have a negative connotation if used with someone you don’t know, among friends it becomes a bit more amiable and is sometimes used to describe playful disparagement is someone has cheated at a game or gotten away with something devious like skipping work or school.
Chanto (ちゃんと) – another super popular word, this often gets dropped in conversations all the time and on the surface means something akin to “properly”. For example, a teacher might throw this one out and tell someone to speak properly or rightly, but it also has a slang variation as well that translates to “neatly”. If you want something done right or in a certain way, using this as an adverb is a good way to get your point across.
Japanese can be a difficult language to master, and part of the reason for that is that there are so many other casual phrases and words that infiltrate our speaking. Hopefully this will give you an advantage when talking with friends, and of course there are hundreds of others that we couldn’t cover – don’t be afraid to ask your Japanese friends for new ones, and soon you’ll sound just like a native speaker!