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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Jokes That Japanese People Might Not Get:

With all of the effort you put into reading and trying to use our 四字熟語, imaginary readership, you might find yourself tempted to try and make jokes using them, or out of them. My advice is this: Don't.

Now that I'm back in Japan but not yet regularly employed, one of the things that I've been doing to make ends meet is working at a local bakery. I've actually been able to use a number of yo-jis in the course of conversation there:

切磋琢磨
: (re: learning Japanese so I can shove it in Brett's face)
孤軍奮闘: (re: the boss's joke that I would have to come in to work tomorrow, even though the rest of the company has a day off)
画竜点睛: (re: the chocolate cream breads that someone (me) tried to put out for display before the chocolate cream was in them)

But today, when we were making these cow face cream pastries (モウモウクリーム), and I noticed that the chocolate ear spot had fallen off of one, the head bakery dude (パン長?) said 「いいよ。色々な牛がいるから、」and I replied 「そうですね。十牛十色,」 I may have taken things too far.

FAIL.

If you want to joke with your 四字熟語, there are a couple of things you want to make sure of first.

One is that the target of the joke knows you well enough to figure out that you are in fact, making a joke, and not just retarded. I've mentioned before the frustration of the non-native speaker in Japan. If you say something that doesn't match up to their imagined responses, Japanese people around you are more likely to assume that you made a mistake than to try to figure out if what you said has another meaning.

The second thing is that your yoji-juku-joke is an established one. Your best bet is to go with one of the common jokes that we've mentioned before in the comments, but would be good to include in a real post.

There's 焼肉定食, infamous for being the answer most Japanese students provide when given the following problem: Complete this 四字熟語:_肉_食.

And then there's 鹿素麺, which is a mangling of 四面楚歌.

Do you know of any other humor-fied yoji out there?

8 comments:

david said...

So why didn't he get the joke? Was it because cows aren't 「人」 so you can't use 十人十色?

Defendership said...

I think it's just because it wasn't the exact juku-go, or any of the accepted joke variations. I think the problem stems from the difficulty a lot of native speakers have when figuring out what you MEANT to say as opposed to what you DID say. It'd be impossible for me to remember all the times I asked a Japanese speaker, "I can't remember this word...hidei? hodoi?", and even if it's off by just a syllable, it's rreeaalllyy unusual that they'll be able to determine what I mean. The problem is only compounded when you CREATE a new word.

Why does this happen? Not sure. It's probably equal parts Japanese contextualization and a vocabulary where homonyms run rampant - they can probably think of a lot more variations on the word you're searching for than you can.

Claytonian said...

perhaps if you said "~[normal expression]じゃなくて、[joke expression]ということですね。" They might get that you are joking.

Here is the really bad joke I told to my eikaiwa class: "I got on the elevator. An old man in the elevator asked me, 'なんかい?' and I replied 'ごかい'... but he didn't understand."

AzzidisRidden said...

Brett answered that as well as I could have, and as well as I SHOULD HAVE explained within the body of the post as well. Basically, he never connected what I said to [十人十色」 at all.

It also makes a big difference whether you're communicating verbally or in writing. That joke would've been much easier to understand had there been accompanying kanji. What I said out loud though, was basically just nonsense to him, because that phrase doesn't exist. I tend to think that if a Japanese person had made the same joke, listeners would've given him/her the benefit of the doubt and thought about the meaning, but since it was me and my Japanese is far from flawless, my audience was more inclined to think that I was just making some mistake.

Clay, your method seems like it would work well, but something in me balks at the idea of having to explain that my joke is a joke.

Also, that joke is pretty ridiculously hard to get, man...
It just works so well as a straightforward sentence, that I wouldn't think twice about the homonymity of it.

Besides, knowing you, I was expecting a different follow-up, like you get on the elevator, dude says "なんかい?" and you go "初めてです。優しくしてね。"

Claytonian said...

ah, I like that line! I thought of gokai because this was based on a true story and a punny light in my head

david said...

Oh, I didn't notice the 「牛」. Not at all surprised that he didn't connect じゅうぎゅうといろ to 十人十色. If the expression used kun-yomi instead of on-yomi for the first two kanjis as well I bet the joke would be easier to understand.

The Real Colin Thompson said...

Yoji-juku-joke! Ha!

Claytonian said...

I actually heard a yoji subsitution joke last night! I was like, surely I will remember that in order to report back, but no, I don't remember what was said.

But it can be done.