query: sarcastic antonymic nicknames

Midori Osumi nekubunpoo at GMAIL.COM
Thu Nov 26 12:53:30 UTC 2009

David ,Nicholas, Mike...
I thought about it further, but it is difficult to find any examples like
that in Japanese. I talked with a French friend of mine who has lived in
Japan for many years, and he said he hasnt heard any such nicknames among
We have humours of course, but often foreign people living here  find it
different from theirs, not that Japanese ones are peculiar, but that what we
find funny may be quite culturally conditioned, or culturally
sensitive,.  We have hiniku which Nicholas pointed out, (in other words, we
say, atekosuri,) but this sounds a bit like nastyexpressions with negative
connotation, unless you use this term in a way'such as' The situation turned
out so well, and it is hiniku, as we didnt expect such a good ending, etc.

By the way, this French friend told me that in French a father sometimes
calls his small son  'mon grand'.  This is an 'affectionate' expression
surely,  in which the father probably let his son feel that he is already 'a
grand person', or that the father is treating him as a big person.  And this
reminded me of Neku (a language from New Caledonia), which I have been
working for past years, There, often a small boy is called 'papa'.
However,   this is again a bit different, involving another issue though, as
in kinship terms there, grandfather and grandson are called the same way,
Native people there explain that they call small boys like that with
(about Tora-san, it s funny but we don t have image of 'fierce strong
tiger', (maybe because this series of films are so famous), but his name
sounds old-fashioned and comical.)
(Tokyo Woman's Christian University)

2009/11/26 David Gil <gil at eva.mpg.de>

> Thanks, Midori and Mike, for these clarifications.
> But I still need to ask Midori one further question...  My original use of
> the term "Sarcastic..." was perhaps unfortunate, since it implies a certain
> negativity, or verbal aggression, that is definitely *not* an intrinstic
> part of the phenomenon in question.  (For example, in my original query,
> calling a dark-skinned person "white" was, if anything, a compliment, in a
> society which, like many others, prefers lighter skin tones.  Similarly,
> many or most of the English and other examples that have been offered seem
> to me to be affectionate, and devoid of any negative connotations.)  Which
> is why I now prefer to use the more neutral term "Humorous Antonymic
> Nicknames".  So my question to Midori, then, is as follows: given the
> claimed Japanese desire to avoid the perceived unpleasantness of sarcasm,
> are there nevertheless examples of Humorous Antonymic Nicknames that can be
> used in a non-sarcastic way, or is the phenomenon of Humorous Antonymic
> Nicknames really absent from Japan (as it apparently is in most parts of
> Indonesia)?
> David
> Yes, I agree with Midori fully. As a semi-outsider
>> observer-participant in Japan (for 18 years!), I must admit that my
>> sarcastic wit was NOT fully appreciated ... EXCEPT in the Deaf
>> community (where they love sarcasm!) and among exchange students from
>> China (mostly Shanghai) and Mongolia (well, i only had ONE of those).
>> Appreciation of sarcasm was one of a list of features that I would
>> list that separates Japanese Deaf culture as distinct within "normal"
>> Japanese culture.
>> Irony on the other goes over quite well ... with almost everyone in Japan.
>> On Thu, Nov 26, 2009 at 5:58 AM, Midori Osumi <nekubunpoo at gmail.com>
>> wrote:
>>> To the suggestion Nicholas made, re.Tora-san,
>>> i think it s not the case.  Tora is shortened form of Torajiroo, which is
>>> his real name, and his name does not make us feel sarcastic. Maybe, he
>>> was
>>> born in the tiger year, too, which is the reason for his name...
>>>  In fact, Japanese does not have this habit, i guess, Sarcasm, or irony,
>>> which may be heard often, and probably related to the idea such as wits,
>>> among esp British people (?)but in Japan, it is not considered as
>>> anything a
>>> good thing to do.  We have Senryuu, a literary art form, which is like
>>> Haiku, short poem, in which people purt their criticism in ironical,
>>> subtle
>>> way, against the society or authority in the form of poem, as they
>>> couldnt
>>> say that openly.
>>> re pensons'names, the japanese language council or something reviews
>>> characters which are usable or not, for names (of newly born children),
>>> and
>>> they sometimes eliminate some characters which are associated to evil,
>>> death, excrements, curse, etc,, as they view that these naming may lead
>>> to
>>> discrimination.
>>> Midori Osumi
>>> 2009/11/26 Nicholas Ostler <nostler at chibcha.demon.co.uk>
>>>> David Gil wrote:
>>>>> A little bit under 24 hours after posting the original query, I've
>>>>> received a slew of examples from English, a few nice examples from
>>>>> other
>>>>> European languages, but very little from the rest of the world -- the
>>>>> only
>>>>> clear-cut example so far coming from the Australian language Bardi
>>>>> (thanks
>>>>> to Claire Bowern). So are Humorous Antonymic Nicknames really a mostly
>>>>> European phenomenon? Or is it just that us
>>>>> mostly-European-language-speaking
>>>>> typologists don't know enough about the relevant facts in other parts
>>>>> of the
>>>>> world?
>>>>> David
>>>> A possible non-Western example is the loveable loser hero of Japanese
>>>> comedy movies Tora-san, which could be translated as "Mr Tiger" -
>>>> probably
>>>> the animal he least resembles (and written with the correct character 寅
>>>> -
>>>> though this means the Chinese zodiacal beast, rather than the actual
>>>> animal).
>>>> See, for more details of this antihero,
>>>> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Otoko_wa_Tsurai_yo
>>>> More generally, in terms of antonymic nicknames in non-Western
>>>> traditions,
>>>> one thinks of the bizarre nature of Nahuatl honorifics, which seem to be
>>>> largely drawn from hypocoristics (e.g. the suffix -tzin in Malintzin,
>>>> 'Malinche', Cortes's interpreter. This phenomenon (and its possible
>>>> converse
>>>> - honorifics used as insults) are discussed very briefly in my book,
>>>> Empires
>>>> of the Word (HarperCollins 2005) pp. 15-16, referring to the learned
>>>> discussion by Frances Karttunen 1990 - Conventions of Polite Speech in
>>>> Nahuatl, Estudios de Cultura Nahuatl, 20: pp. 281-96.
>>>> --
>>>> Nicholas Ostler
>>>> Chairman, Foundation for Endangered Languages
>>>> www.ogmios.org
>>>> nostler at chibcha.demon.co.uk
> --
>  David Gil
> Department of Linguistics
> Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology
> Deutscher Platz 6, D-04103 Leipzig, Germany
> Telephone: 49-341-3550321 Fax: 49-341-3550119
> Email: gil at eva.mpg.de
> Webpage:  http://www.eva.mpg.de/~gil/
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