It’s that guy, fellow, chap thing

No offense, but where’s some of the more practical/useful stuff? For a while there, you had me checking this blog everyday – and learning something new every time you posted something. These days…not so much. – jljzen

Ouch. Ok, I admit, I’ve been incredibly lazy with this blog lately. Sometimes I go on a writing spree then I get burned out and have to do something else for a while. It doesn’t mean I’ve run of things to write about. In fact, I would rate this post an 8 on the practical/useful scale. What? You want to know what the scale is based on? Sorry, I’m too busying writing this to answer your question.

This word is used all the time… kind of

「奴」(やつ) is yet another one of those words that just can’t be easily translated into English and yet it’s often used in casual conversations. Look it up at the WWWJDIC and it’ll say, “(1) (vulg) fellow; guy; chap; (2) thing; object”. Hmm… I don’t know about you but when I hear “chap”, I picture, “Quite splendid, I must say!” and “Would you like two cubes of sugar with your tea or just one?” “Fellow” and “guy” isn’t very helpful either. The second definition is also too vague to really make much sense to me. Yahoo 辞書 isn’t much better as it says pretty much the same thing. So why don’t we take a closer look at what the definitions are trying to tell us and how the word is actually used in Japanese?

There was a fellow, a guy, and a chap…

The first definition may sound like the beginning of a joke but what it’s trying to say is that 「やつ」 is a naughtier version of 「人」. It’s impossible to translate because it can have either a good or bad meaning. In any case, by using 「やつ」, it becomes obvious that you don’t have much respect for that person. So you should use this only for your homeys or at least when the person in question is not around to hear you. (God, I can’t believe I just said, “homeys”.)

A: この学校って、変なやつばかりだな。
– This school is just full of strange guys.

B: みんなオタクだからよ。
– It’s because they’re all nerds.

A: 10,000円を貸してくんない?
– Can you send me 10,000 yen.

B: いいよ。
– Sure.

A: マジで?!お前って、本当にいいやつだな!
– Really? You’re really a great guy!

It’s, you know… stuff

The second definition of 「やつ」 refers to generic things. In this case, since objects don’t have feelings, you can use it much more freely than the previous definition.

A: 丸くて赤いのがあるじゃん。すっごく高いやつ。あれを買ってよ。
– You know there’s that round, red thing? The really expensive thing. Buy that thing for me.

B: 全然分かんないけど、とにかく嫌だ。自分で買ってよ。
– I have no idea but anyway I don’t want to. You buy it yourself.

In the example above, I could have used 「物」 instead of 「やつ」 but that just sounds too stiff in the type of casual language used in the example. 「やつ」 sounds much cooler and more hip.

The 「こ、そ、あ、ど」 version

You are probably already familiar with a variety of generic words starting with こ、そ and あ indicating proximity. Just like you have 「これ」、「それ」、and 「あれ」 to mean, “this”, “that”, and “that” (way over there), the same versions of 「やつ」 are 「こいつ」、「そいつ」、and 「あいつ」 respectively. There is also 「どいつ」, the question word for 「やつ」, similar to 「どれ」. You can use these words to refer to both people and objects. In the case of objects, it becomes a rougher and more casual version of 「これ」、「それ」、「あれ」、and 「どれ」. These words are great for when you want to add a bit of punch when referring to the objects around you.

A: すごいんだよ。こいつをパソコンに入れると性能が何倍も上がるんだよ!
– It’s awesome. If you put this in the computer, the performance increases manifold.

B: あ、そう?よかったね。
– Is that so? That’s nice.

I almost want to translate the 「こいつ」 from the previous example as “this shit” but I don’t think it’s quite as strong. If you think of it as a word somewhere between just “this” and “this shit”, I think you’ll have a good idea of what the difference is between just 「これ」 and 「こいつ」.

As before, you can use it to show disdain or a lack of respect for people. In this case, 「あいつ」 is probably the most common because it means that the person is not there to actually hear you.

A: あいつはもう嫌いだ!
– I hate that punk, already!

B: そうよ。もう別れた方がいいって。
– That’s right. As I told you, it’s better to just break up.


I hope this post sheds some light on the side of Japanese you’ll never see in textbooks. Despite the stereotype, Japanese people are not nice and polite all the time as the textbooks make them out to be. It’s life, shit happens, and of course, Japanese has a language for those occasions. You’ll hear these words more often than you expect especially among the younger (kind of delinquent?) crowds where it seems like they use 「こいつ」、「そいつ」、etc. all the time when referring to people and things.

8 thoughts on “It’s that guy, fellow, chap thing

  1. Hi again, good job (and good luck!) with the continuing J-lessons. Glad to see I’ve made yet another Yahoo jisho convert. (Even if I did manage to misspell “admission” in my last post, ugh.)

    Anyway, the point of this post:

    “Yahoo 辞書 isn’t much better as it says pretty much the same thing.”

    That it does … *in English*. The Japanese entry, though, is right on the money:

    1 人を卑しめていう語。また、目下の者に親愛の意をこめていう語。「なんて―だ」「弟はいい―だ」

    2 物事をぞんざいにさしていう語。「そっちの―をとってくれ」

    Further proof that if one is really dedicated/friggin nuts enough to devote the necessary amount of time and energy to learning this language to any degree of fluency, choosing JE rather than JJ resources is tantamount to shooting oneself in the foot. Quick, what’s the difference between 企画 and 計画, or even なんとか and なんとなく? Use JE resources and you’ll get the same definition in both instances, but use JJ ones and the difference is perfectly clear.

    Again, this post isn’t an attack on your posts. You’re doing a great service to J-learners everywhere! I just wanted to further illustrate a shortcoming that you yourself brought up within the body of your post.

  2. Just want to point out that there’s another set of こそあど versions of やつ: こやつ、そやつ、あやつ、どやつ, though they seem to be older and less used (though I heard あやつ on the weekend when re-watching 灼眼のシャナ). They also seem to be rougher than こいつ etc, but I’m not sure if there’s a real difference in feel, or just different vocabulary meaning pretty much the same thing was used in the dictionary entries.





  3. See, now that’s what I’m talking about! Good to see you back to work!
    Some suggestions:
    -the infamous trailing off し and the end of sentences.
    -さえ discussion.
    -The differences between にしては、割りに、にとって、として

    Nice work!

  4. Thanks for the great comments!

    One of these days, Leonardo… one of these days. Somebody actually emailed me about writing a Japanese slang book but they wanted more useless trash like “Making out in Japanese” so I turned them down. The market is completely lacking a serious book on Japanese slang right now.
    Good point. I didn’t check the JJ defintion but yes, it describes it right on the money, doesn’t it?
    Yes, there is こやつ, etc. but they are outdated, like おぬし. Might be good to bring out the samurai aura, though.
    Thanks for the suggestions! I’ll add them to my ever growing collection of unfinished drafts.

  5. WOW, I never knew that! I always wondered what やつ、こいつ、あいつ meant! I hear Japanese nationals say that all the time (especially from young Japanese males…) Yeah, I definately would not have learned that in my Japanese courses. Great post!!

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