mjj (flemmings) wrote,

The headbangers' glossary

I've wailed often enough about the Japanese tendency to call people ketchi and what a pain it is for a NAmerican to translate, when all notion of miserliness as a character trait has passed out of the culture. I'm not sure when that happened- post-war is my guess- or why, though I'm coming to a vague notion that in societies where few people are very rich, like Edo Japan and 19th century Britain or America, the notion of hoarding and not sharing and being ungenerous in general is not only more widespread, it's more in the forefront of people's consciousness. It's one of those vices that weakens the social net people depend on. Reach a certain level of affluence and it becomes less of an implied social crime. Misers existed and were condemned in the 1860s and had all disappeared a hundred years later, when the meaning of 'mean' had gone from 'skinflint' to 'unkind.' Misers existed- I think Howard Hughes was probably one- but it wasn't a character trait by then, it was a pathology, and no one was much interested in it. Japan took longer to reach that affluence and was always more of a mutual-dependence society, is possibly why the miser sense of ketchi hung on longer.

The current use of ketchi in fact takes in both senses of mean- niggardly and unkind, one who withholds out of malice or ungenerosity: but it bugs me that most people reading it will only take it in one sense. I could rant here about the flattening effect of American English, but I won't.

But I *will* rant about 'greedy', which is currently driving me bats as well. The sense of 'greedy' has gone beyond 'gluttonous' in current English, and that's fine. Greed for money or power or whatever is more serious than simple greed for food. My translator's problem is that gluttonous itself has passed out of colloquial usage. This matters when you're dealing with Asian characters for whom gluttonousness is a) a defining characteristic b) sort of condemned and c) humourous. The guy who eats a lot in NAmerica isn't called gluttonous. The opprobrious word is fat: which causes problems when the guy isn't. Gokuu, Luffy, that kid in Kou Josei: they're hungry all the time, and they overeat, but that's OK- linguistically at least- because they aren't fat.

So what's the word that conveys condemnation of the thin guy who lives for food? 'Piggy' exists, but I hear it as a kid's word; it's also a problem if the character's name already is 'Piggy.' ^_^ When gluttonous is one characteristic being condemned among a list of others- he's lazy, he's selfish, he eats too much and he sponges on other people (that last is another crux) what's the adjective that fits in that list?

Some days I hate being a NAmerican English speaker. Language here has as little flavour as the food. I think I'll move to Scotland where I can rejoice in a vocabulary of abuse that derives from Middle English. (Or Newfoundland, which is closer to home.)
Tags: language, translation
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