Language | WELL SAID

Whether something smells like rotten cheese or is just plain cheesy, 'kusai' is your go-to adjective

by Akemi Tanahashi and Hitomi Tashiro

Contributing Writers

Kono otoko wa kusai. (This guy is sketchy.)

Situation 1: Mr. Sere and his girlfriend, Yuri, are watching television together.

ゆり: 私、この男が犯人だと思う。

セレ: うーん、この男も臭いけど、この男の彼女もかなり怪しいなあ。

Yuri: Watashi, kono otoko ga han’nin da to omou.

Sere: Ūn, kono otoko mo kusai kedo, kono otoko no kanojo mo kanari ayashii nā.

Yuri: I think this guy is the culprit.

Sere: Yeah, this guy is sketchy, but the guy’s girlfriend is quite shady as well.

The Japanese use the adjective 臭い (くさい) when something smells terrible: この魚(さかな)は臭い。腐(くさ)っているのだろうか。 (This fish smells bad. Is it rotten?)

臭い can also mean “suspicious,” as in Situation 1, and it can also be used to express something lame (and is then written in hiragana):

「たとえ太陽(たいよう)が消(き)えて無(な)くなっても、ぼくはきみを 愛(あい)し続(つづ)けるよ」なんて、くさいセリフを言(い)われても ねえ…。 (He said to me, “Even if the sun disappears, I’ll continue to love you” … it’s kind of cheesy, right?)

Situation 2: Ms. Aoyama is talking to Ms. Gray about a blind date she had the previous day.

青山: …それが、けちくさい男で、コーヒー代割り勘だったんですよ。端数まで、きっちり計算して。何だかあほくさくなって、432円払って、さっさとさよならしました。

グレイ: だけど、前の彼の時は、何から何まで青山さんが全部払っていたのよね?

Aoyama: … Sore ga, kechi-kusai otoko de, kōhī-dai warikan-datta-n desu yo. Hasū made, kicchiri keisan shite. Nandaka aho-kusaku-natte, yonhyakusanjūni-en haratte, sassato sayonara shimashita.

Gurei: Dakedo, mae no kare no toki wa, nani kara nani made Aoyama-san ga zenbu haratte-ita no yo ne?

Aoyama: That one, he was a stingy guy, we went Dutch on coffee you know. He had me pay exactly half, down to the nearest fraction. I felt a bit idiotic, paid my ¥432 and quickly said my goodbye.

Gray: But, with your previous boyfriend, for anything and everything you paid for it all, didn’t you?

くさい can attach to a noun, “X,” to express the negative nuance felt by the speaker so that Xくさい means “smelling” or “feeling” like X (the hiragana くさい is mostly used in this structure): かびくさい (smells moldy), 嘘(うそ)くさい (feels like a lie), インチキくさい (feels fake), 胡散(うさん)くさい (suspicious looking), 年寄(としよ)りくさい (looks old).

“X” doesn’t have to be a noun, it can also be an i- or na-adjective, which takes on a disgusting or suspicious nuance when combined with くさい: 古(ふる)くさい (feels old), 青(あお)くさい (feels too young), けちくさい (feels stingy), あほくさい (feels idiotic) and, the commonly used 面倒(めんどう)くさい (bothersome).

Bonus Dialogue: The Okubos are talking about a phone scam.

夫(おっと): 伯母(おば)のところに、胡散くさい電話(でんわ)がかかってきたそうだ。

妻(つま): 振(ふ)り込(こ)め(ふりこめ)詐欺(さぎ)ね。「あんなインチキくさい電話!」と思(おも)うけど、案外(あんがい)みんな引(ひ)っかかるのねえ。

夫: 電話の男(おとこ)が「もしもし、大介(だいすけ)だよ」って言ったんだって。小(ちい)さいころかわいがっていた甥(おい)の大介くんだよ。その男から大介って名乗(なの)ったそうだけど、もしかしたら、よく聞(き)こえなくて、こっちから「え?誰(だれ)?大介?」なんて言ったのかもな。それからその男に「通帳(つうちょう)にいくらあるの?」って聞かれて「3864円(えん)」と正直(しょうじき)に答(こた)えたら、電話が切(き)れたそうだ。

妻: よかったけど、伯母さん、お金持(かねも)ちなのにそんな残高(ざんだか)?

夫: あの人(ひと)は若(わか)いころ苦労(くろう)しているからか、金持ちになってもずっと貧乏(びんぼう)くさい生活(せいかつ)をしているんだ。会社(かいしゃ)を息子(むすこ)に譲(ゆず)った後(あと)は年金(ねんきん)だけで暮(く)らして、月末(げつまつ)にお金(かね)が残(のこ)ると寄付(きふ)してしまうんだって。人の幸(しあわ)せって、なんだろうな…?

Husband: I heard a suspicious phone call came to my aunt.

Wife: A phone scam, right? I thought (you’d be able to figure out) “that kind of fake phone call,” but surprisingly everyone falls for it.

Husband: The guy on the phone said to her, “Hello, this is Daisuke” … the nephew she loved when he was little. She said he gave his name as Daisuke, but I wonder if she probably couldn’t hear well and said, “Eh? Who’s this? Is it Daisuke?” Then, the guy said, “How much is in your bankbook?” And she just answered honestly, “¥3,864,” and he hung up.

Wife: That’s good, but your aunt, why such a low balance although she’s rich?

Husband: That person (my aunt) faced a lot of hardship when she was young, so even though she’s [now] rich, her lifestyle still feels poor. After giving her company to her son, she only lives off her pension and at the end of the month donates all her surplus money [to charity]. I wonder what makes (us as) people really happy?

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