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A, kawaii neko!

by Akemi Tanahashi and Hitomi Tashiro

A, kawaii neko! (Oh, what a cute cat!)

Situation 1: Mr. Tian is visiting his old landlady Ms. Mori, when a cat comes in.

ティエン: あ、かわいいネコ!私がここにいたころには、ペットはいませんでしたね。

森: あのころは、まだ娘も息子もいたから、ペットを飼うどころじゃありませんでしたよ。

Tian: A, kawaii neko! Watashi-ga koko-ni ita koro-niwa, petto-wa imasendeshita-ne.

Mori: Ano koro-wa, mada musume-mo musuko-mo ita-kara, petto-wo kau-dokoro-ja arimasendeshita-yo.

Tian: Oh, what a cute cat! When I was living here, you didn’t have a pet.

Mori: In those days, my daughter and son were here, so I couldn’t even think of keeping a pet.

Today, we will introduce the various meanings and usages of two adjectives かわいい (cute/lovable) and こわい (scary/scared) and their related expressions. The adjective かわいい means that something or someone, usually tiny and weak, is cute, as in Mr. Tian’s sentence, though it is also possible to use this word to describe a big animal like a giant panda. It can also be used to describe a person’s way of action or movement. Nowadays, young women, especially high-school girls tend to use this word as an interjection rather than an adjective to describe various things that people would generally never think of as cute or that even look grotesque for older people; for example, a fashion accessory in the shape of a skeleton.

Situation 2: Mr. Okubo is scolding his son Mitsuo after seeing his exam result.

父: 光男、もう少しまじめに勉強したらどうなんだ? お父さんは、光男がかわいいから、怒っているんだぞ。

Chichi: Mitsuo, mō-sukoshi majime-ni benkyō-shitara dō-nan-da? Otōsan-wa, Mitsuo-ga kawaii-kara, okotte-iru-n-da-zo.

Father: Mitsuo, why don’t you study harder? I only scold you, because I love you son.

XはYがかわいい means X loves Y. X has to be the person who is in a sense superior (e.g. parent, grandparent, teacher, office owner etc.), on the other hand, Y is the person who is in a sense weaker (e.g. baby, child, grandchild, pupil, student, worker, younger lover, pet, etc.). The verb form of かわいい is かわいがる. The same thing is applied to the adjective こわい (scared/scary), although X does not have to be Y’s superior or vice versa in the pattern XはYがこわい. Its verb form is こわがる.

Bonus Dialogue: Adam, a young trainee in Mr. Okubo’s section, looks gloomy. Ms. Tamachi is worried and asks him why. Then he answers.

アダム: じつは、また課長(かちょう)に怒(おこ)られちゃったんです。ぼくの話(はなし)は全然(ぜんぜん)わからないって…。

田町: まあ、そんなにへこまないで。ほら、あめでも食(た)べて。

アダム: ありがとうございます。…ぼく、課長がこわくて、課長の前(まえ)に出(で)ると、うまくしゃべれなくなってしまうんです。どうしたらいいでしょう?

田町: そうねえ…。アダムくん、課長の机(つくえ)にかざってある写真(しゃしん)に気(き)がついた?

アダム: はい。かっこいい男(おとこ)の子(こ)と、かわいい女(おんな)の子が二人(ふたり)。テレビタレントかなにかですか?

田町: なに言(い)ってるの! 課長のお子さんたちよ。

アダム: えっ! あんなにかわいい子たちが、課長のお子さんなんですか? 全然にていない!

田町: いいタイミングで「課長にそっくりですね」って言ってごらん。きっと、いいことあるから。

アダム: あっ、そうですか! ありがとうございます。がんばります。

Adam: Actually, I was scolded by the boss again. My speech was not understandable at all, he said.

Tamachi: Well, cheer up, Adam! Eat this candy.

Adam: Thank you Ms. Tamachi. … I’m scared of the boss and I can’t speak well in front of him. What should I do?

Tamachi: Let me see … did you notice the photo that is displayed on his desk?

Adam: Yes, a cool boy and two cute girls. Are they TV stars or something?

Tamachi: What are you talking about?! They’re the boss’ son and daughters.

Adam: Really? Are such a cute boy and girls his children? They’re not like him at all!

Tamachi: When the time is right, tell him that they’re just like him. Then something good will happen.

Adam: Oh, I see! Thank you very much, I’ll try my best.