Tuesday, December 13, 2005


Today's expression is inspired by Kanye West and my love of teasing students.

魔性の女(mashou no onna) means "golddigger" in Japanese!

I usually like to write a long post explaining why a word means what it means - but I think the Japanese > English translation that I've given is pretty self-explanatory.

I will take a moment to explain the kanji though:

(ma) is the kanji we have for 悪魔 (akuma), meaning devil, and it contains the kanji for demon (鬼 oni). 悪 (aku, or warui) means "bad" and the 魔 has a "devilish" connotation when standing alone. In some research of my own, I've turned up 魔 as the expression "the devil got into X" where X is usually a person (or perhaps annoying animal), and 魔 meaning "addicted" in the sense that one has a certain obsessive-compulsive disposition towards some activity. The term audiophile might be rendered in kanji as 音楽興味魔 (although this is NOT the dictionary term for it). In my hypothetical example, 魔 gives the word the sense of "freakishness" on the part of the music fan.

性 (shou, or sei) is the kanji for sex and gender. This kanji appears in words like 性別 (seibetsu) which is the word "gender" that appears on application forms et. al. Imagine having a document with a box for male and female and you have to check one of them. Above those boxes is "gender" in English and "性別" in Japanese. I have another really fun post about a word using 性, but I'm saving it for another day.

The kana の makes the preceeding noun into a possessive form - the 's of something (Bob + の = Bob's).

After that we have the kanji for female: 女 (onna)

You might assume that 魔性の女 would therefore mean "A devilish gender of woman" or something like that - and it does kind of mean that in a way - but the way the young generation see it is something more akin to "a woman being devilish towards gender" and we assume that the gender is male, so we get a kind of female devilry towards men which comes across as "golddigger."

Now the best part of this whole blog - and this is a rather obscure place to type it out but it needs be said nonetheless - is that I can certify my translations in real time by asking no less than 100 students per day whom I teach.

I've said that I'm not a professional in the past, and I have to keep stressing the point because a person reading this blog assuming I've taken 6 years of PhD level courses in Japanese literature will be let down to learn this isn't the case, AND there is no greater authority for slang terminology than the youth of any nation who make it up. PhDs - from long experience with many - are unfortunately cut off from this target group because they spend so much time indoors reading books preparing for classes. That kind of work ethic only lends itself to pleasing other stuffy academic-types, and I vowed even with my eyes on a PhD that I would never become such a person.

My point is that my translations have a kind of intrinsic authority from the creators - the kids - while very learned (learn ED - Shakespeare pronunciation) sites like WWWJDIC can give all kinds of references to kanji stroke order and meaning and history and blah blah blah - but they can never get into the dirty terminology that hasn't been sanctified by the academic institutions who write the checks.

So don't cite these translations for a college paper - I write about language that comes out after four or five "big boy" Asahi beers on a Friday night.


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