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How to Treat People Badly: Part 1

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If someone planned to serve you the following, how would you respond?

粗煮 (arani: dish consisting of bony fish parts boiled in soy sauce)
     coarse + to boil

Blech! Not one part of that sounds good to me. Bony fish parts and hot soy sauce do the opposite of whetting my appetite.

I would have guessed that you’d make this dish only if the fridge were barren, save for a few bottled sauces and a moldy onion growing new parts. But it’s entirely possible that 粗煮 is a delicacy! As it turns out, the answer isn’t so clear-cut; see the link for more on that.

Native Takes on the Situation …

From the following definitions of the first kanji, you can certainly see how this could be food of the last resort:


1. leftovers (after filleting a fish)
2. rice chaff (i.e., worthless husks of grains)
3. flaw (especially of a person)
4. a prefix meaning “rough; roughly”
5. crude; raw; natural; wild

You get all that just when the yomi is ara. And there are two more yomi. Here’s the full story on this kanji:

(SO, ara(i), ara: coarse, rough, rugged)

Ring a bell? As I mentioned last week, and (KŌ, ara(i), ara-, a(reru), a(rasu), -a(rashi): rough, crude, natural, wild) are close and sometimes interchangeable, but not always. Whereas the primary definition of is “wild,” has more of a sense of “low quality,” “coarse,” and “unfinished.”

The differences go back to the etymology. Remember how initially had to do with grasses growing rampant? Well, originally had to do with spilled, neglected rice. See the link below for more.

The Etymology of

Giving people shoddy food is one thing. But it’s a Japanese tendency to act as though that’s what one is doing, even when serving food fit for a king. Hence the following expression:

粗酒粗肴 (soshusokō: self-deprecating way to offer meal to guest)
     crude + alcoholic drink + crude + food accompanying drinks

The fourth kanji isn’t Jōyō.

This expression literally means “cheap wines and unpalatable dishes.” See how shows up twice to emphasize the poor quality of both? The idea is not to put the guest down but rather to express humility about one’s cooking ability and the low budget and effort involved in preparing the meal.

After the meal, the host follows up with more self-deprecation about the food:

お粗末様でした (o-somatsusama deshita: host’s expression of humility after a meal)
     inferior + insignificant + suffix for forming polite phrases

Saying “I just served you inferior food” is simply a way of saying “It was nothing at all” or even (as Halpern has it) “The pleasure was all mine.”

As I wrote in “Hyperbolic Humility” on page 127 of Crazy for Kanji, “The Japanese make others feel good by diminishing themselves.” Because this self-deprecation is such a vital part of the social structure, Japanese guests know not to hear comments about a shabby meal as a slight about their own worth.

Here are more ways in which helps to make an offering modest:

粗茶 (socha: coarse tea)     coarse + tea

This could simply refer to tea that hasn’t yet been processed. But it’s almost always a humble expression used when offering someone tea.

粗品 (soshina or sohin: low-grade goods; little gift)
     humble + article

In a business situation, but not a social one, you can work your way into your customer’s good graces with a gift, as long as you verbally diminish its value:

Soshina desu ga o-uketori kudasai.
This is just a small gift, but please accept it.

受け取る (uketoru: to receive)
     to receive + to take

Uketori is the adverbial form of this verb.

The gift may be easy to accept, but the mentality behind the wording is a little harder for the Western mind to grasp. One can’t imagine saying something like, “I found this torn shirt in a dumpster behind the homeless shelter. Please accept it as a token of my esteem.”

To explore this further, let’s return to the phrase we saw earlier:

お粗末様でした (o-somatsusama deshita: host’s expression of humility after a meal)
     inferior + insignificant + suffix for forming polite phrases

This phrase has the following word at its core:

粗末 (somatsu: crude; rough; plain; humble, inferior)
     coarse + insignificant

You likely know this from 週末 (shūmatsu: weekend, week + end). But in that context, means “end” or “last part.” In the case of 粗末, the means “insignificant” or “last in importance.”

Thus far, we’ve seen expressions in which the poor quality and the claims to shabby treatment have only been smokescreens. But 粗末 is the real deal; the item in question is truly inferior or lacking, as the sample sentences show.

Sample Sentences with 粗末

Adding verbs to 粗末 enables you to mistreat things. In other words, you make them 粗末:

粗末にする (somatsu ni suru: to waste, treat shabbily, treat frivolously, handle roughly, treat without respect)

This expression mainly applies to disposable things such as food.

Sample Sentence with 粗末にする

粗末に扱う (somatsu ni atsukau: to handle (a thing) roughly)
     coarse + insignificant + to handle

This expression mainly applies to things that gradually wear out but are not directly consumed—for instance, tools. (At least I hope you haven’t been swallowing hammers!)

Hey, here’s something unexpected. Check out this sample sentence for 粗末:

Dōgu o somatsu ni tsukauna.
Don’t handle these tools roughly.

道具 (dōgu: tool)     the way + tool

It would be just as easy to say the following:

Dōgu o somatsu ni atsukauna.
Don’t handle these tools roughly.

These sentences differ by only the letter a. Normally, 使う (tsukau: to use) and 扱う (atsukau: to handle, deal with, treat) would be pretty far apart. But in this context, they take on the same meaning. That’s rather reassuring on a day when apparent meaning and actual meaning have done nothing but diverge.

Time for your Verbal Logic Quiz, where you’ll most likely see more divergence!

Verbal Logic Quiz …

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