Funny little nuances (忙しい、うるさい、高い)

I’ve run into my fair share of trouble over the years in saying the wrong things at the wrong time when speaking Japanese. Combine a medium level of fluency with a Japanese-only work environment or a friend or partner who is having a bad day and you’re bound to excitedly say something that invites an “education experience” i.e. facepalm or worse.

Here’s my list for now.

忙しい : Wisdom from my old host mother. Don’t use this kanji when telling other people that you’re busy. The two parts mean “lose” and “heart” (I know… I know… “fins” right) and you’re basically telling people that you don’t mind losing their friendship on account of your being busy.

うるさい: Your friend is very deliberate about picking out a particular item and you want to tell them they are being way too picky. うるさい should work for that, right? OOPS.

高い: Why yes, that $220 blanket you’re looking at from some random designer that nobody has ever heard of looks all right but compared to my $40 throw from amazon that I’ve been using for 10 years, it’s a little 高い。Well, apparently, the use of 高い to describe something someone wants is 下品言葉 (a vulgar choice of words) so if you don’t want to insult your friend, hold your tongue mate.

:sweat_smile:

6 Likes

I’ve never heard that explanation for why not to use it… I think the general rule of thumb is that Japanese people avoid giving excuses that sound too blunt. Outright saying you are busy might come across as dismissive or uncaring.

The mnemonic explanation is cute though, I suppose.

Hmm? I guess you know better now, but うるさい is basically always a negative and insulting word.

The Japanese definition of the word that I guess you saw translated as picky is

いやになるほどに、こまごまといきとどいている。

Key point being いやになるほどに… in other words, you (or they) are bothered by their behavior.

The example sentence given in the dictionary I checked also uses うるさき (which is a classical adjective form) which makes me think this meaning is also old-fashioned.

れいのうるさき御心とはおもへども、えさは申さで

So, I would say you probably can’t use it this way in modern Japanese even if you are bothered by their pickiness.

6 Likes

Not sure this is just a Japanese-only thing, though. I’d have the same reaction if someone said this to me in English. As in, what is it your business how I spend my money? To me, that would come across as nosy and preachy no matter the language unless my opinion was explicitly being solicited. :man_shrugging: And even then, I would probably temper my opinion especially if they were very enthusiastic about the item.

5 Likes

There is this example sentence on jisho: 彼女は服装にうるさい。(She is particular about what she wears.) Doesn’t seem like a classical sentence but personally I’ve never actually heard any Japanese people use it this way. I’m curious what the friend said when you used うるさい to call them picky. How did you know it was a wrong usage?

I would just caution that Jisho takes sentences from Tatoeba. You or anyone else could write a sentence on Tatoeba and submit it, and it may or may not get checked by natives or experienced users. So, it’s possible that that usage exists, yes, but other verification would be needed.

1 Like

While I very much agree with this advice in general, this particular example is also backed up by this Japanese source:

In mentioning this, the article also says that when used in this way, the word うるさい should not be translated directly, which may indicate that it isn’t the primary association (which also matches my – admittedly limited – understanding).

If I’m reading this source correctly, うるさい originated as うらせま, which can be translated as “narrowminded” (and this phrase still exists, but with 心 pronounced こころ). It supposedly describes the feeling about somebody who repeats or does the same thing over and over again, which gives translations like “noisy” or “annoying” when your reaction to that is negative, but can also be translated as “particular” or “picky” when it is not explicitly negative.

3 Likes

I’ll have to ask some natives how they would respond to being called 服装にうるさい. And I, too, wonder how it was used in the original case. I’m guessing probably not in the [thing]にうるさい form. If it was just うるさい alone… that will interpreted as “will you shut up” basically all the time.

3 Likes

Yeah, considering how much I’ve heard it (mostly in media, fortunately), the go-to translation would definitely be “Shut up” or “Oh, for crying out…!”

I suspect it might be a bit like the word “peculiar”; my go-to synonyms would be “strange”, “odd” or “weird”, but in a sentence like “He’s very peculiar about what he eats”, I’d interpret it as “picky” or “particular”.

:point_up: I can comment!

First of all, I want to point out that prior to this incident I hadn’t thought much about the difference between “picky” “selective” “choosy” - yes, I’ve called people “picky” in English before and it’s been shrugged off with an unbothered “Yes, I am a little picky about these kinds of things.” Digging into it, picky is almost always negative in English.

As for how it was used by the poor bloke speaking Japanese in this case, it was in response to someone pointing out a perceived flaw in a product and arguing for something that costs twice as much. He said: 「ちょっとうるさすぎるんじゃない?」I probably don’t need to tell you how that went.

I can’t say I’ve ever asked a native their opinion on this usage of うるさい but the conclusion of the article posted above (here) claiming there is a “positive meaning too” makes me think that just as I wrapped up “picky” and “selective” together in my head in English, perhaps others are doing the same in Japanese.

A quick search gave me this site which basically says the same thing but gives a different reason (the 亡 part being ominous).

The conclusion seems to be the same: don’t use 忙 in writing. Of course, I always see people using it so it must have to do with manners or upbringing (a topic against which there are book aplenty) which changes generation to generation.

I do think it goes beyond the simple concept of saying “I’m busy” and that leading to lost goodwill.

That question is about using it in the context of a wedding, around which there are other various superstitions as well, not necessarily in just sending a text to someone. There are plenty of kanji that use 亡 and they don’t all get avoided (to be fair, a bunch do have negative meanings, but others are neutral or positive, like 網 or 望), in my experience, but maybe some people do think that way.

3 Likes

〜にうるさい really exists as an expression that means ‘very well-versed in ~’. It often has a negative connotation though (kinda like ‘knowledgeable to the point of fussing over details’). Here’s a page about it:


It’s labelled ‘N0’ because (if I’ve understood correctly) it’s something that’s fairly advanced but which doesn’t come up in the JLPT.
3 Likes

To clarify, would it be wrong to use 高い in general when simply stating that something is expensive? Not necessarily commenting on what your friend wants, but just looking at a price and commenting out loud? I’m only at a beginner level grammar-wise, but so far I’ve been taught it’s okay to use 高い to say something is expensive, so if it isn’t I’d like to correct it before it becomes a bad habit (like how textbooks teach あなた but you should only use it with strangers or your significant other).

There is nothing wrong with using 高い in general. I think the problem in OP’s example is that it can sound judgmental, like “why are you wasting your money on this stuff”. People have different interest and like to spend their money differently, and being told you are spending your money wrong is not something that most people appreciate. There is also a difference in exclaiming “高い!” and asking “ちょっと高くないですか?”. I would say it’s about the situation, not the word.

So you don’t have to worry about using 高い. There is nothing inherently rude about it.

4 Likes

If you think about it, going around calling things “expensive” has the potential to get one in trouble if it is accidentally said it in front of the person that created it or selected it for the store.

Still in this case it wasn’t like I was in that kind of situation. It was a digital conversation. As Harukaze said, I probably struck a chord; nuance does that by making a pointed and innocent observation about the cost of an item turn into a judgement about someone’s spending habits.

I do wonder if there is a difference between 物が高い and 物の値段が高い in terms of perceived rudeness there。

1 Like

I agree with your comment here in that there are other characters that include 亡 that are simply not avoided. I believe it to be limited to this one kanji - “losing heart”

Come to think of it, it might have been a suggestion she made during 年賀状 writing season which makes sense. Or perhaps when she was helping me draft a text message to someone. It’s been awhile.

There is just so much baggage to unpack with this kanji that I’ve avoided using it in emails in my professional life. Here’s an example: link

Thanks for finding this. I actually haven’t heard of N0 words/grammar classification. That’s interesting. Though I wonder if N0 actually means “NO” as in don’t use this? :crazy_face:

It was helpful to read the example sentences on that site. All of them are phrased as negative characteristics.

Hahaha. Nah, it’s just the author’s personal label for these things.

1 Like

This topic was automatically closed 365 days after the last reply. New replies are no longer allowed.