In directing plays over the years, it has always struck me how clever actors are at producing insulting dialogue in the early stages of rehearsals. From the first day of rehearsal, they have the invective of their characters virtually down pat. When their character is called upon to say something nice or tender to another character, however, it doesn’t readily trip off the tongue. Perhaps insulting others comes naturally to humans, while complimenting people has to be practiced and learned.

Let’s look at this phenomenon in Japanese. This week I will focus on Japanese compliments. In Japan, as anywhere, flattery will get you everywhere.

There are two common ways to say "compliment": ohome no kotoba (おほめの言葉) and oseiji (お世辞). The ohome in the former comes from the verb homeru (ほめる), which means "to praise." The latter means flattery and can be ironical. Osejijzu na hito (お世辞上手な人), or someone good at oseiji, is an unctuous flatterer.