In this short post, I’ll be talking about 「微妙」（びみょう）, a na-adjective that is used quite often in Japanese. The word 「微妙」 itself describes a state of delicate balance and indicates that things can easily go one way or the other.
You can find many examples from the WWWJDIC of this usage such as the following sentence.
-The word has a delicate shade of difference in meaning.
While the word when used in this fashion is not slang, there is one more way to use 「微妙」 that can be considered slang: a negative version of 「まあまあ」.
Many of you probably have already learned 「まあまあ」 in the classroom as a way of describing something as “so-so”. However, while 「まあまあ」 means neither good nor bad, it has a favorable connotation. 「微妙」 on the other hand, while also used to describe something that is neither good nor bad, looks at things in a negative light. To illustrate, let’s look at the two different responses to the following question.
Q: 味はどう？ – How is the taste?
A1: まあまあ。- It’s not bad.
A2: 微妙・・・。- Umm… it’s not that good.
The first answer is saying, while the taste is not great necessarily, it not that bad. The second answer takes the opposite stance and indicates that while the taste is not terrible, it’s just not very good. It’s similar to the “cup is half-empty/half-full” distinction. While both mean the same thing, the attitude is completely opposite from each other.
Here are some interesting examples of 「微妙」 that I came up with. Be careful not to insult anybody using this word (unless that’s your intent)! That’s probably why they only teach you 「まあまあ」 in class.
1： あの子は、かわいくない？ – Don’t you think that girl is cute?
2: う～ん、微妙だな。 – Hmm, nah, not really.
1: 明日、時間空いている？ – Do you have time open tomorrow?
2: 明日は、ちょっと微妙かも。 – Tomorrow might be a bit shady.
As you can see from the second example, like most slang, you can use 「微妙」 in all sorts of situations. Try it on your Japanese friends today!