Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Words I Dis/Like #2

Last year I blogged about the word [適当]. It's certainly an interesting one, and it and I have a love/hate relationship. The cool thing / problem about it is that, much like the rest of the language, it's pretty ambiguous. Often that's not a problem, when the context is apparent. In fact, that means often it's really easy to use. But sometimes...sometimes it's a pain in the ass.

適当(てきとう ) means "appropriate" (Edit: "adequate", as Tokyo Five suggests, may be a better translation). It also means something like "half-assed." It seems to me that lately it's used more often in the negative sense. There have been times when I've tried to bust it out and have been misunderstood, and the problem in this case is that it means pretty much means two opposite things. So if you say 「じゃあ、適当にしようね」 (Well then, let's do this right), it could also be interpreted as "Well, let's do this half-assedly (and just finish)."

I suppose this could be avoided by using a different word or making sure your inflection also hints towards your meaning, but sometimes it's just a big hassle.

Edit: Daniel points out that "however the f*%^ you want" is a good alternative translation for 適当.


  1. I'd say "Tekitou(na)" would be "Adequate" in English...which also could be positive or almost negative depending on the way it's used.

  2. Ahh. Yeah, I've always kind of groped around for a good English word to define it.

  3. Ambiguous words like this can be useful for speaking your mind in situations where you might later need to backpedal, like if it gets around to the wrong person.

    "Oh, did I say your work on that project was barely adequate? What I meant was, it was exactly what was needed in the situation."

    Of course, upstanding citizens such as ourselves would never use words in such a way as that ;-)

  4. I think the "let's do this right" word that you're looking for is ちゃんと. ちゃんとやりましょう - let's do this right. That's the positive alternative to 適当.

    Don't forget that 適当に means "do something however the fuck you want" - that's how I always remember it.

  5. Jonadab - the ambiguity of the language is nice sometimes, but it can be frustrating on those (hopefully rare) occasions that you're misunderstood.

    Daniel - Ah yes, good point! ちゃんとに would be a much better word choice there. And yeah, I'll try to just remember 適当 as "however the fuck you want."