Wednesday, July 16, 2008
This one starts off seemingly obvious, with a reading that even those with a basic kanji level can ascertain. Eight directions, beautiful woman (or person). A quick side-note here to go along with my train of thought, how is that 四面 and 八方 can have the same meaning? Is there actually a tangible difference between things coming at you from eight sides instead of four? And four sides I can get - front, back, left and right, or even cardinal directions. But eight? Are they now filling the gaps of the secondary directions? Why not taking it another step and have it be the 16 directions? For those big into translation, I'd say "from all angles" would be a better interpretation. But I digress...(I think I just wanted to say that - thanks for indulging me, however involuntarily.)
1. Someone who is beautiful from all angles.
2. To never say anything bad of other people, or someone who acts that way.
3. A sycophant
So unfortunately this does not mean that you have 8 beautiful women coming at you from different angles (thought Jeff "乱...何とか" Bailey will cover that in another post). Instead we have a barrage of meanings that slide the scale from compliment to insult, making this a tricky yoji to employ in everyday language. Jeff noted that he used it to describe somebody who was everybody's friend, but the person with whom he was talking said they would never want to be called a 八方美人. This is further complicated by the fact that the 四字熟語データバンク makes a special note indicating that the phrase is often used in a negative sense, but not always.
So here's a general guideline - if you are talking about a woman and use this phrase, it will most likely be interpreted in the good context, especially if used in a conversation involving appearance. If, however, you are talking about a guy, or about a woman's kindness, be wary - what was intended as a compliment can seem like an underhanded jab at their character. You might be able to preface its use with 本物の, but even that might come across as "He's a REAL brown-noser". Don't be afraid to clarify your meaning, as that will only go to show that, hey, you do actually know what you're talking about.
Today's example sentence is probably applicable to a lot of foreigners after they first come to Japan (especially those wearing the "looking for a Japanese girlfriend" t-shirt), and today's challenge will be for you to somehow translate the joke into English. Good luck!
例文： A-san: 「僕初めて日本に来た時、八方美人ばっかり会ったよ。」