By writing about bujoku (侮辱 , insults) in Japanese, I truly risk being labeled a namaiki na yatsu (生意気な奴 , a wiseacre). Well, wisdom comes in a variety of forms, including nasty ones. So, dear reader, even if you are donkan (鈍感 , obtuse), chi no meguri ga warui (血の巡りが悪い, slow to catch on) or just plain atama ga warui (頭が悪い, stupid), I’m sure you’ll still get something out of reading this. Just read slowly, mouthing every word.

Now, kashikoi (賢い) may mean “clever,” but inside other words it can take on a less sanguine meaning. You should not be pleased if someone calls you warugashikoi (悪賢い), which means “too clever by half.” And don’t be delighted if you are referred to as a kozakashii yatsu (小賢しい奴) just because the English equivalent, which is “smart aleck,” has “smart” in it.

Oh, I could go on and on. How sweet it is to bring people down a peg or two, especially people deserving of a healthy drubbing! Only when writing a column like this can one throw PC (I am not referring to my computer, you IT geeks out there) to the wind and be sexist, ageist and many other juicy “ists.”

Let’s kenasu (けなす, dig into) women first. This will not please those of you women readers who are busu (ぶす). Busu denotes the kind of, shall we say, “homely” women that the cartoon character Chibi Marco describes with megane wo hazusu to pikaso no e mitai (a woman who looks like a Picasso picture when she takes off her glasses). A year in which many such women, who are not exactly lookers, marry is said to be kabocha no ataridoshi (かぼちゃの当たり年, a good year for pumpkins). It’s just lucky they don’t celebrate Thanksgiving in Japan, that’s all I gotta say.

Speaking of painters, Rubens had a penchant for debu (でぶ), or, not to put too fine a point on it, “women with a significant weight problem.” But he did like them young. For the calendar-challenged female, there is the quaint-sounding umeboshi babā (梅干しばばあ). An umeboshi is a pickled plum, and a babā is an old word for an old crone. This fruity, and dated, phrase is used to call someone an old prune.

Insults are certainly nongender specific, and we can all recognize men who are dasai (ださい , uncool) and those who are kiseichū (寄生虫), or spongers, leeches. Literally, kiseichū, means “parasite”; and I would advise you women to stay away from parasites and men who are kidoriya (気取り屋 , prigs), zokubutsu (俗物 , philistines) and roku de nashi (ろくでなし , rotters, no-goods).

And some people just can’t keep their mouth shut. They are hanashijōzu no kikibeta (話上手の聞き下手). If you translate this verbatim, it comes out as “good talkers (but) bad listeners.” The nuance of this phrase, however, is more negative than this. It is used to describe people who love the sound of their own voice.

Why are we humans so good at knocking each other? Are we ijiwarui (意地悪い, nasty, spiteful) by nature? “Who me?” you may ask.

One thing is sure when it comes to Japanese tastes: Japanese don’t like people who are narenareshii (なれなれしい), or over-familiar, presumptuous. Narenareshii implies a person who takes undue liberties with others; and, believe you me, the Japanese don’t like people who take liberties with others by putting their arm around them and saying things like “Yo!” So, put that in your hookah and smoke it, George W. Bush!

You can always call a bad actor a daikon (大根). Daikon is the name of the large Chinese radish eaten all over East Asia. Perhaps a nonliteral translation would be “ham.” If you want to badmouth a singer, call them onchi (音痴). Someone who is onchi has no ear for music. If they object, squint at them and say, yowane wo haku na (弱音を吐くな, stop whining, will you?) If they don’t stop whining, call them a nakimushi (泣き虫), or crybaby. That should shut them up.

Finally, if you have exhausted all of the above and the person you are trying to insult is still not sufficiently huffy, stare squarely at them and shout “aho doji manuke omakeni kurukurupa! (あほ, ドジ, まぬけ、おまけにクルクルパー).” This may be delicately rendered into English as “You nincompoop, flunkey, numbskull and, what’s more, total airhead!”

The Bible (Second Corinthians, 11:19) tells us of wise people who yorokonde orokamono wo shinonde kureru (喜んで愚か者を忍んでくれる, suffer fools gladly). When all is said and done, that may be a good definition of wisdom. We all have a fool in us. Letting that fool out into the light of day on the odd occasion may be one way to retain our sense of tolerance.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.