It’s, like, like 【なんか】

Like, if there’s any equivalent to like, the word “like” in Japanese, it has to be like 「なんか」. 「なんか」 is a contraction of 「なにか」(何か), which means “something”. However, 「なんか」 can be used to mean something very similar to the English “like”. Take a look at the example below:

ゲームなんか興味ないよ。- Not interested in something game.

First, you’ll notice the total lack of particles. You’ll see that a lot in casual speech. Another thing to notice here is that 「なんか」 essentially means “things like” in this example. This usage is distinct for 「なんか」 and you won’t see 「なにか」 used in the same way.

In fact, just like the word “like” in English, you can stick 「なんか」 just about anywhere and still make sense! Be careful though because this might become a habit and you might, like, start sounding like the way you do when, like, you use like, like everywhere.

Hey, like, when I got on the train today, there was like a strange person and like he was mumbling something I couldn’t understand.

If you add 「さ」 to the end of almost every phrase, you get what young people sound like in Japan nowadays. Sigh… so sad.

Hey, like, when I got on the train today, right? There was like a strange person, right? And like he was mumbling something I couldn’t understand.

Oh crap, it’s 【やばい】

I was thinking of writing a theme-based post with all sorts of useful expressions and examples but I’m too lazy so I decided to do another one like the last one and just talk about one word. This time, I’m going to introduce yet another slang that you’re going to hear all the time, especially among the younger crowds.

Let’s say you woke up at 8:00 in the morning. You look at the alarm clock and you realize that you are totally late for school. If you are a robot like those characters in Japanese textbooks, you might say something like 「どうしよう」 to mean “What shall I do?” (Lit: “How shall do?”). Now let’s say you’re a real human being, you’re late, and you’re in deep shit. In Japanese, you would very likely say, 「やばい!」.

A) 授業は、もう始まっちゃっているぜ。- Class has already started, man.
B) マジで?!やばい!- For real? Oh crap! (Lit: Dangerous!)

「やばい」 in the dictionary is defined as “dangerous” and that’s a good way to remember it as long as you keep in mind that it’s the “oh shit” variety and not the “watch your head” type of danger.

You can use 「やばい」 in all sorts of fun ways. For instance, if you want to warn your friends that that one girl is crazy and they should watch out, you might call her 「やばい」. Or you found out that you totally bombed a test. You can even use it in a positive sense such as calling something dangerous because it’s so delicious.

A) 試験はどうだった?- How was the test?
B) 全然ダメだった。- Totally no good.
A) それって、やばくない?- Isn’t that dangerous?
B) うん、やばい。- Yeah, I’m screwed.

A) そんなにうまいの?- Is it that tasty?
B) やばいよ。- It’s dangerous.
A) うそだ。- Yeah right. (Lit: It’s a lie)

Tune in next time when I’ll hopefully have more than just single vocabulary explanations!

Using 「マジ」 for real

I’m back! Most of you probably don’t know this (or care) but I actually have a real full-time job. And this being Japan, full-time means more like 9 to 8 rather than 9 to 5. So those of you who think I sit at home in my boxers working on my computer, I’m actually stuffed in a crowded train disguised amongst hundreds of Japanese businessman. And since our project is running late on the release date, I’m working more like 9 to 10… and I don’t mean one hour. No really. マジで。 And I suppose that’s just as good as any lead-in to the topic at hand: “How to use マジ to talk about what’s real.”

What is マジ?

Once you start practicing Japanese with real people outside of the classroom, you’re bound to run into the word 「まじ」 probably sooner rather than later.

You probably already know 「本当」, the word you use when you want to say things like, “Really?” or “Yes, really.” But most of the time, you don’t want to sound like a wimp by saying things like, “Oh really? That’s nice.” What you really want to say is something like, “For real?” or “No way!” or maybe even, “You’re shitting me!”. That’s where 「まじ」 comes in. 「まじ」 is often said to be a shortened form of 「真面目」 which means “to be serious” (although there are other theories regarding its origin). 「まじ」 is also often written in katakana to show that great emphasis that 「マジ」 contains.

A: クリスは、彼女ができたんだって。 – I hear Chris got a girlfriend.
B: へ~、マジ? – Heh, for real?

Using the 「で」 Particle for マジ

One thing to remember in terms of grammar is the use of particles. When you use 「本当」 as an adverb, you attach 「に」. However, for 「マジ」 you attach 「で」. There’s no logic that I can figure out to this but then we are talking about slang here.

A: 本当に忙しくて大変だったよ。 – I was really busy and it was tough
B: そうなの? – Is that so?

A: あいつ、マジで退学しちゃったの? – Did that guy really drop out of school?
B: うん、マジで。 – Yeah, for real.

Differences between 「本当」 and 「マジ」

Besides the difference in the particles, 「本当」 and 「マジ」 are quite different in their tone and usage. For instance, 「本当」 sounds cuter, more polite, and more feminine than 「マジ」 which sounds very rough and crude. In fact, you should take care in using 「マジ」 with your superiors. Having said that, I think 「マジ」 is a really useful word to know that you’re going to hear over and over again in daily conversations.

Japanese verbs from English

An interesting phenomenon of the modern Japanese language is the various crazy ways English is mixed in as slang or otherwise. Some English words are so common that practically every Japanese person will understand what they mean. For instance, despite being a fairly difficult word, probably just about everybody knows what charisma (カリスマ) means. And the phrase 「アピールする」 has become so common that it is more accurate to say that it’s simply part of the Japanese vocabulary.

However, by English, we’re not talking about real English but the special bastardized Japanese version. As a result, all of this knowledge is pretty much useless for real English (unfortunately for the Japanese who all seem keen on mastering English). However, it does make things much more interesting for us; the ones that are learning Japanese. (ある意味でね)

Making Japanese verbs with English words

Today, I want to talk about an interesting class of verbs that come directly from English. Katakana words are mostly nouns since verbs require endings that can be conjugated. However, the clever Japanese youth have figured a way around this by simply attaching a generic u-verb 「る」 ending. This ending was selected undoubtably because it felt the most natural to the pioneers of modern Japanese.

A very useful verb of this type is 「サボる」, which originally comes from サボタージュ (sabotage). You will almost certainly see this verb whenever somebody is slacking off, skipping class, and the like.

– Because there is a test, it’s better not to skip tomorrow’s class.

Other less common verbs of this type include 「ダブる」 (to coincide), 「トラブる」 (to act up, cause trouble), 「ミスる」 (to miss), and 「ハモる」 (to harmonize).

– Sorry, my plans ended up doubling so is it OK if I cancel at the last minute?

In a similar vein, although it’s not used very often, instead of saying 「タクシーを呼ぶ」 or 「バスに乗る」, you can also say 「タクる」 and 「バスる」 .

– I missed the last train so having no other choice, I took a taxi home.

Yet another great, recent example of this type of verb is 「ググる」. With the popularity of, you might be aware that “google” has become a new verb meaning “to search something with google”. Well, Japanese also has a similar verb: 「ググる」. (Google is 「グーグル」 in Japanese but 「グーグル」 is harder to say, so the verb became 「ググる」)

– That much, you can figure it out for youself. (Lit: That amount, search on google by yourself.)

I’m gonna stop here before mentioning the various types of restaurant verbs like 「マクる」 (to go to McDonalds)、and 「ファミる」 (to go to a family restaurant) because slang of this type are usually just a passing fad. (And probably won’t make sense to Japanese people over the age of 25)

※The key thing to remember when using these verbs is that you must conjugate them as u-verbs.

Using the shortest letter 「ん」 for slang

As is the case with most languages, there are so many types of slangs and abbreviations in Japanese that there is no way to categorize them in a unified manner. Trying to learn slang by memorizing rules is probably close to impossible because of the inumerous number of inconsistencies.

Here, I’m just going to go over a couple of common types of slang so that you can get an idea of how it works. Like I mentioned previously, it is impossible to fully and comprehensively explain these types of things but it can still be useful to get familiar with the general idea.

Fortunately, slang is very easy to pick up by speaking and listening because they naturally come about from people finding easier ways to say something.

In short, the driving force behind Japanese slang is to make things easier to say. There are two cardinal rules that go along with this idea.

1) Make it shorter.
2) Be lazy.

Since 「ん」 is the only letter that lacks a syllable, it is the shortest sound in the Japanese language. As a result, it is often used to substitute for other longer letters that require more energy to pronounce; in particular the tongue rolling 「ら、り、る、れ、ろ」 sounds.

One of the most common example of this is the substition of 「ら」 in 「わかない」.

– [Do you] know where Misa-chan went?

– Dunno.

In fact, you can do the same type of substitution for any 「~らない」 negative verbs.

– Don’t really know but everybody said it was really great.

– Doesn’t [your] head become hurting when you read a book in dark room for a long time?

Another common substitution is the 「いる」 from the 「~ている」 enduring state form.

This one’s a bit tricky because you can’t actually end a sentence with just 「ん」, you always need something to come after it.

-Whatcha doing?

– [We need something to come after 見てん]

-Hm? Well, [I’m] watching movie now, but?

「ん」 is sometimes even substituted for letters in regular words such as 「つまらない」.

– It’s boring here so let’s go somewhere.

There are many more examples of 「ん」 substitution for abbreviations. One of the most common examples is the subsitution for 「のだ」 as seen here. Another example is the 「ん」 substitution for the 「ない」 in negative verb conjugations as seen here. If you spend quite a large amount of time speaking Japanese, you might find yourself making these substitutions yourself unconsciously.