Language | WELL SAID

No student should be without the Japanese double-negative

by Akemi Tanahashi and Hitomi Tashiro

Sore-o shiranai hito-wa inai-deshō (There is no one who doesn’t know that)

Situation 1: Department head Yamani is making a speech at the office meeting.

ヤマニ: BK社の「ビスラット」を知らない人はいないでしょう。それに対して、わが社の「スラリビューティー」は、こちらのほうが早く売り出されたにもかかわらず、あまり知られていません。早急に対策を考えなければなりません。

Yamani: BK-sha-no “Bisuratto”-o shiranai hito-wa inai-deshō. Sore-ni taishite, wagasha-no “Surari-byūtii”-wa, kochira-no hō-ga hayaku uridasareta-ni-mo kakawarazu, amari shirarete-imasen. Sakkyū-ni taisaku-o kangaenakereba-narimasen.

Yamani: There is no one who doesn’t know BK’s “Bisuratto.” On the other hand, “Surari-Beauty,” our company’s product, is not generally known, despite the fact that it was put on the market earlier. We urgently need to consider measures to address this.

Today we introduce an expression that has two negative elements. The pattern X-nai (noun-modifier in the negative form)+N (noun)-wa nai/inai expresses that there is nothing/no one that does not do/is not X. This double-negative pattern emphasizes that, in fact, everyone is/does X — as Ms. Yamani demonstrates in Situation 1. Example: その映画(えいが)を見(み)て、涙(なみだ)しない人(ひと)はいなかった (No one who saw that movie had dry eyes).

Situation 2: Ms. Aoyama is telling her senior colleague, Ms. Gray, about her love life. After a lot of explaining, Ms. Aoyama concludes.

青山: いろいろグチを言いましたけど、こんな状態だから って、幸せじゃないというわけではないんですよ。

グレイ: うーん、じゃあ、このままでいいの?私には理解できない。

Aoyama: Iroiro guchi-o iimashita-kedo, konna jōtai-dakara-tte, shiawase-ja nai-to iu wake-de-wa nai-n-desu-yo.

Gray: Ūn, jā, kono mama-de ii-no? Watashi-ni-wa rikai-dekinai.

Aoyama: Even though I’ve complained so much [about him], it doesn’t mean that I’m not at all happy.

Gray: Hmm, so, are you OK with the situation? I don’t get it.

The pattern X-ない(という)わけではない is a euphemistic way of admitting X, as Ms. Aoyama does in Situation 2, or is used to soften the tone, as in: 行(い)きたくないわけじゃないけど、今回(こんかい)はやめておこう (I don’t mean that I don’t want to attend, but this time I’m not going). As in the latter example, というis often omitted, and the colloquial contracted form of では is じゃ.

Bonus Dialogue: Mr. Mita looks depressed. His colleagues Ms. Gray and Ms. Tamachi are worried and ask him what’s up.

三田: ぼくほどたくさんふられた男(おとこ)はいないんじゃないかなあ。

グレイ: ずいぶん自信(じしん)がなさそうじゃない。三田 (みた)さんらしくない。

三田: 7回(ななかい)もふられたら、弱気(よわき)になるよ。たのむから、ぼくのいいところを言(い)って。

田町: うん、三田(みた)さんだって、いいところがないわけじゃないからね。

グレイ: まず、三田さんのパソコンのスキルがすばらしい。

三田: この程度(ていど)のスキルのない社員(しゃいん) なんていないよ。

田町: 三田さんって、グルメよね。お母(かあ)さんがお料理(りょうり)が上手(じょうず)だからかな。お父 (とう)さんも、すてきな方(かた)よね。クラシック音楽(おんがく)が趣味(しゅみ)で…、たしか弁護士(べんごし)さんだったっけ?

グレイ: それに、お姉(ねえ)さんたちも、3人(さんにん) とも美人(びじん)で頭(あたま)がいいって評判(ひょうばん)じゃない。

三田: 家族(かぞく)のことはいいから、ぼくのことを言ってよ。

田町: あ、もちろんよ。えーと、うーん、えーと…。

三田: なんだか、ますますウツになりそうだ。

Mita: I fear no man has been jilted as many times as me.

Gray: You’ve lost all your confidence. It’s not like you, Mita.

Mita: Anyone who has been jilted by seven ladies would be depressed. Have a heart. Tell me my good points.

Tamachi: OK . . . well, it’s not that you have no good points.

Gray: First of all, your computer skills are great.

Mita: There’s no one in the firm with less skills than me.

Tamachi: You’re a gourmet, aren’t you? That’s because your mother is good at cooking, I guess. Your father, too, seems to be a nice gentleman, into classical music. And he’s a lawyer, isn’t he?

Gray: And your three sisters are pretty and smart, I heard.

Mita: It’s all very well to talk about my family — what about me?

Tamachi: Sure. Well, uh, well . . .

Mita: Oh, I’m getting even more depressed!