Language

Learning how 'lukewarm' can apply to food, drinks and people alike

by Akemi Tanahashi and Hitomi Tashiro

Contributing Writers

“Nurui bīru mitai”-tte iwareta hito. A person described as being “like lukewarm beer.”

Situation 1: Mr. Tian talks to his colleague Mrs. Shiba at the office.

ティエン: 確か、昔、「ぬるいビールみたい」って言われた有名人、いましたよね?

芝: ああ、そうじゃなくて、「冷めたピザみたい」って言われた人のことでしょう?

Tian: Tashika, mukashi, “nurui bīru mitai”-tte iwareta yūmeijin, imashita yo ne?

Shiba: Aa, sō-janakute, “sameta piza mitai”-tte iwareta hito no koto deshō?

Tian: There used to be a famous person that people described as being “like lukewarm beer,” right?

Shiba: No, wasn’t it a person who was said to be “like cold pizza?”

Like many people around the world, the Japanese often enjoy a nice cold beer. If it’s ぬるい (lukewarm), however, then it just isn’t the same. The i-adjective ぬるい is used for more things than just describing cold beer, though. In Situation 1, Mr. Tian says ぬるいビール (lukewarm beer), which — in a country where cold beer is prized — means beer that is simply not cold enough. Thus, ぬるい is used to describe something that should be very cold but is not cold enough, and can also be used for describing something that should be very warm but is not warm enough. The compound adjective 生(なま)ぬるい, with the prefix 生(raw)has the same meaning as ぬるい but emphasizes the speaker’s feeling of disgust, as in こんな生ぬるいお茶(ちゃ)が飲(の)めるか? (How can I drink such lukewarm tea?) ぬるい and 生ぬるい are sometimes used metaphorically, as in:

彼(かれ)は、親元(おやもと)で生ぬるい生活(せいかつ)にどっぷり浸(つ)かっている。 (He leads an idle life in his parents’ house.)

Situation 2: At home, Mr. & Mrs. Shiba are watching TV where the shocking news of a criminal who killed a child is on the air.

妻: あんな可愛い子どもを殺しても、今の法律だと十数年で刑務所から出てきてしまうのよね?

夫: うん。日本の法律は、犯罪に対して手ぬるいなあ。今すぐ法改正をしてもらいたいよ。

Tsuma: Anna kawaii kodomo o koroshite mo, ima no hōritsu da to jū-sūnen de keimusho kara detekite shimau no yo ne?

Otto: Un. Nihon no hōritsu wa, hanzai ni taishite tenurui nā. Ima sugu hōkaisei o shite moraitai yo.

Wife: Even though he killed such a cute child, he’ll be out of prison in 10 years or so by the current law, right?

Husband: Yeah. Japanese law is too lenient when it comes to crime. I’d like them (the government) to reform the law as soon as possible.

The compound adjective 手(て)ぬるい, with the kanji for 手 (hand/ways) at the start of it, means “lax” or “lenient” and is used when talking about regulations, measures and discipline in a particularly critical way. In this instance, the husband uses it to express his dismay at the leniency of the justice system.

Bonus Dialogue: One evening at the Okubo home.

母(はは): 光男、お父(とう)さんが出(で)たから、すぐお風呂(ふろ)に入(はい)って。今日(きょう)は寒(さむ)くてすぐぬるくなっちゃうから。

光男(みつお):今(いま)、きりが悪(わる)いんだけどな。

母: 光熱費(こうねつひ)がかかるんだから、早(はや)く入って。

光男: わかったよ。今入るよ。

母: 晩酌(ばんしゃく)は日本酒(にほんしゅ)にしたわよ。ビールが切(き)れちゃって。

父(ちち): お、たまにはいいねえ。熱(あつ)かんで…、いやちょっとぬるいぞ。

母: ごめん、久(ひさ)しぶりに日本酒のおかんをしたから、適温(てきおん)を忘(わす)れちゃった。何(なん)でもしばらくやらないと、忘れちゃうのねえ!

光男もだいじょうぶかしら、あんなぬるい勉強(べんきょう)の仕方(しかた)で。

光男: 反復(はんぷく)練習(れんしゅう)はもう古(ふる)いんだよ。ぼくたちの世代(せだい)は、常(つね)にコンピューターに上書(うわが)き保存(ほぞん)しているからね。

父: まあ、光男はともかく、光男のパソコンが賢(かしこ)いのは認(みと)めよう。

Mother: Mitsuo, Dad got out of the bath, so please take a bath at once. Since it’s cold today, it’ll soon become lukewarm.

Mitsuo: It’s not a good time for me to take a bath right now.

Mother: It’ll cost light and heat, so get in soon.

Mitsuo: Okay. I’ll take a bath now.

Mother: I will serve some sake with dinner. We have run out of beer.

Father: Oh, occasionally sake is nice. It’s nicely warmed … Oops, it’s a bit lukewarm.

Mother: I’m sorry, it’s a long time since I last warmed sake, so I forgot the proper temperature. If you don’t do something for a while, it’s forgotten!

I wonder if Mitsuo is alright, he has such a sluggish way of studying.

Mitsuo: Learning by repetition is already old. That’s because, our generation is constantly overwriting on the computer.

Father: Well, aside from Mitsuo, we should admit that at least his computer is smart.

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