query: sarcastic antonymic nicknames

角田 太作 tsunoda at NINJAL.AC.JP
Mon Nov 30 09:50:47 UTC 2009

Dear All,
   This is a very quick note on the Japanese language. It does not
constitute a reply to David’s question to Midori. But it is relevant to
Jeffrey Heath’s posting regarding Warlpiri antonyms.
   There is a place called Iruma (now Iruma City) about 50 km (?) north of
   About 20 years ago, a certain Japanese dialectologist (now deceased) told
me that there was a phenomenon called ‘Iruma kotoba’ (Iruma speech’).
   According to that dialectologist, people of Iruma were said to use
antonyms. He told me a – funny but sad -- anecdote. Roughly speaking, the
story goes as follows.
“(Probably hundreds of years ago) a traveler came to Iruma. There was a
river in Iruma, but there was no bridge. The traveler had to wade across the
river. He asked the local people, ‘Is this river deep or shallow?’ The river
was deep. But the Iruma people use the antonym, and said ‘The river is
shallow’. Upon hearing this, the traveler walk into the river and – alas! --
he was drowned.”
   The dialectologist told me that use of antonyms is called ‘Iruma kotoba’
(Iruma speech) in Japanese dialectology (if I remember correctly). I believe
that the name ‘Iruma kotoba’ and the anecdote cited above are well known
among Japanese dialectologists.
Tasaku Tsunoda
Would anyone please advise me if you have received message?

On 09.11.26 6:49 PM, "David Gil" <gil at EVA.MPG.DE> wrote:

> 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

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