Pretty vacant: Being barely there in Japanese with ‘bonyari’ and ‘botto’

by Akemi Tanahashi and Hitomi Tashiro

Contributing Writers

Dō-shita-no? Bon’yari-shite. (What’s up? You look pretty out of it.)

Situation 1: The Okubo family has just finished lunch.

母:  どうしたの?ぼんやりして。

たか子:  昼ごはんを食べすぎたら、眠くなっちゃった。

Haha: Dō-shita-no? Bon’yari-shite.

Takako: Hirugohan-o tabe-sugitara, nemuku-natchatta.

Mother: What’s up? You look pretty out of it.

Takako: I ate too much lunch and now I’m sleepy.

Today we will introduce two expressions, ぼんやり and ぼうっと, that indicate someone or something is dim, distant or vacant. ぼんやり is used as an adverb in the form ぼんやり(と), or in the form ぼんやり(と)している to show the vague or dim state of scenery or things. Examples: 人(ひと)の姿(すがた)がぼんやりと 見(み)えた (I saw the vague figure of a man); きょうは霧(きり)がかかっているので、景色(けしき)がぼんやりしている (Because it’s foggy today, the scenery looks indistinct). ぼんやり(と) also means “absentmindedly,” “vacantly” or “carelessly” and is used to show a lack of memory, thought or consciousness. Examples: 会(あ)ったのはもう10年(じゅうねん)も前(まえ)だから、彼(かれ)のことはぼんやりとしか覚(おぼ)えていない (I met him 10 years ago, so I only vaguely remember him); きのう、遅(おそ)くまで起(お)きていた から、きょうは頭(あたま)がぼんやりする (I stayed up late last night so my head feels foggy). ぼんやり can also mean “doing nothing.” Examples: そんなところにぼんやり立(た)っていないで、手伝(てつだ)ってよ (Stop just staring into space and give me a hand); ぼんやりしていると、1年(いちねん)なんてあっという間(ま)に過(す)ぎてしまう (When you’re just idling away the time, a year can quickly pass you by).

Situation 2: Mr. Mita and his colleague Mr. Sere are chatting.

三田: 今週も来週も締め切りがたくさんある。いやになっちゃうな。

セレ: 会社から逃げ出して、どこか南の島で、ぼーっとしていたいね。

Mita: Konshū-mo raishū-mo shimekiri-ga takusan aru. Iya-ni natchau-na.

Sere: Kaisha-kara nigedashite, doko-ka minami-no shima-de, bōtto shite-i-tai-na.

Mita: I’ve got so many deadlines this week and next week. I’m so sick and tired of it.

Sere: I want to run away from the office and idle away my time on a southern island somewhere.

ぼーっと, or ぼうっと, is almost the same in meaning as ぼんやりと. Example: こんなに暖(あたた)かい部屋(へや)にいると、頭(あたま)がぼーっとするよ (In a hot room like this, I feel like I’m dozing off). But ぼーっと is not used when speaking about memory or thought, and in the pattern Xにぼーっとなる (to be entranced by X), ぼんやり cannot be used instead.

Bonus Dialogue: The Okubos and their children, Mitsuo, Takako and Mariko, who are on a family trip to the mountains, eat breakfast in a hotel.

母:  光男(みつお)、ぼんやりした顔(かお)をしているわね。

光男:  きのう寝(ね)たのが遅(おそ)かったから。まだ眠(ねむ)いんだ。

まり子:   旅行(りょこう)に来(き)たんだから、部屋(へや)で ぼんやりしていないで、早(はや)く遊(あそ)びに行(い)こうよ。

母:  ほら、きょうはいい天気(てんき)よ。きのうは山(やま) がぼんやりとしか見(み)えなかったけど、きょうはとってもきれいに見えるわね。

光男:  そうだったんだ。山に来(き)たことを忘(わす)れて いた。

たか子:  やだ、お兄(にい)ちゃん。ぼんやりしたことをいって。…ところで、さっきフロントでとてもきれいな女 (おんな)の人(ひと)を見かけたよ。モデルみたいに 背(せ)が高(たか)くて。

光男:  え、ほんとう? まだいるかな?

たか子:  だめだめ、お兄ちゃん、こんどは女の人にぼーっと しちゃうよ。

Mother: Mitsuo, you look like you’re only half here.

Mitsuo: I went to bed late last night, so I’m still sleepy.

Mariko: We are on a trip, so you shouldn’t while away your time in the room. Let’s go out and have fun!

Mother: Look, it’s a fine day. We could only vaguely make out the mountains yesterday, but we should be able to see them clearly today.

Mitsuo: I suppose you’re right. I’d forgotten that we’re in the mountains.

Takako: No way! Mitsuo, your head must be foggy. By the way, I saw a beautiful woman at the front desk. She was tall, like a fashion model.

Mitsuo: What, really? Is she still there?

Takako: No, no. Because then you’ll just end up in a daze again, this time over her.