It’s time for Word of the Week again! Last week we looked at a Japanese word or phrase beginning with ‘ta’ (た), and focussed on the expression 食べ放題 (tabehoudai), which means ‘all-you-can-eat’. This week I’m looking for a word or phrase beginning with ‘chi’ (ち). A big thank you to everyone who joined in with their suggestions this week:
Zooming Japan suggested ‘chikusho!’ (ちくしょう！), an expression meaning ‘damn it!’; and ‘chiru’ (散る), ‘to fall’, ‘to scatter’, ‘to disappear’; locksleyu suggested ‘chanto’ (ちゃんと), ‘perfectly’; Japan Australia suggested ‘chiisai’ (小さい), ‘small’; and ‘chikaku’ (近く), ‘near’, ‘close’; and Rockin’ suggested ‘chikatsuku’ (近づく), ‘to approach’, ‘to draw near’; ‘chuui suru’ (注意する), ‘to be cautious’.
There were some interesting ideas but, in the end, I decided to write about…
I don’t think I’ve ever written about swear words in Japanese before, and I’m certainly not advocating the use of them by Japanese language learners, but it can’t hurt to know a couple now can it? I’ve been studying Japanese for over seven years now and have actually never come across the word ‘chikusho’ (ちくしょう) before. In fact, I don’t know any bad words in Japanese!
The fact is, there aren’t as many ‘bad words’ in Japanese as there are in English, and those that do exist don’t seem to be used as commonly as swear words are used in the English language.
According to this website, ‘chikusho’ is about as strong as official Japanese words get, and it could be translated as ‘the f-word’. The dictionary definition is a bit weaker: ‘damn it’; ‘for Christ’s sake’ or ‘son of a bitch’.
The kanji for ‘chikusho’ are quite interesting: 畜生. The first kanji 畜 (ちく) means ‘domestic fowl and animals’, and the second kanji 生 (しょう) means ‘birth’ or ‘life’. You can see 畜 used in regular words such as 畜類 (ちくるい / chikurui), which means ‘livestock’. You may well recognise 生 from 生きる (いきる / ikiru), meaning ‘to live’.
As well as being an angry interjection, ‘chikusho’ also has another meaning – ‘to be born into the animal realm’. This refers to the Buddhist idea that we die and are reborn, and that one who has bad karma in their life might be reborn into the animal realm. I won’t get too heavily into Buddhist concepts right now, but basically there are six worlds you can be reborn into (the ‘rokudo’ (六道)). The best is ‘tendou’ (天道), which is a kind of heaven, and the worst is ‘jigokudou’ (地獄道), which is a kind of hell. In the middle there are other worlds, which get progressively worse: ‘ningendou’ (人間道), the human realm; ‘ashuradou’ (阿修羅道), the realm of anger, jealousy and constant war; ‘chikushodou’ (畜生道), the animal realm; and ‘gakidou’ (餓鬼道), the realm of hungry ghosts (eek!). (Source)
I’m no expert on Buddhism, so I’ll leave it there, but that’s pretty interesting isn’t it? As far as I can make out, the term used as a swear word has derived from the original word meaning ‘beast’. I think it is a pretty ‘bad’ word, so I don’t recommend using it. Personally I don’t think swearing in a second language is particularly big or clever…
Word of the Week will be taking a short break while I’m travelling round Japan, but will be back before the end of June! The next post will be about a word or phrase beginning with ‘tsu’ (つ), so please leave your suggestions below. The word can be a verb, adjective or expression, but no nouns please! For example, ‘tsukeru’ (つける) meaning ‘to attach’ would be acceptable, but ‘Tsukuba’ (つくば), the city, would not. I look forward to reading your ideas! (*^_^)v