Language | WELL SAID

'Kireru' is a cut above other Japanese verbs

by Akemi Tanahashi and Hitomi Tashiro

Contributing Writers

Nani mo iwazu ni denwa ga kirete-shimau-n-desu. (The phone cuts out without a word.)

Situation 1: During her office break, Ms. Gray notices her colleague Ms. Aoyama on the phone.

青山: あ、もしもし、私だけど!もしもし?もしもし?

グレイ: 青山さん、どうしたの?

青山: 彼に電話すると一応出るんですけど、いつも何も言わずに切れてしまうんです。どうしたのかな。心配だな。

Aoyama: A, moshi-moshi, watashi da kedo! Moshi moshi? Moshi moshi?

Gurei: Aoyama-san, dō shita no?

Aoyama: Kare ni denwa-suru to ichiō deru-n-desu kedo, itsumo nani mo iwazu ni kirete-shimau-n-desu. Dōshita no kana. Shinpai da na.

Aoyama: Ah, hello, it’s me! Hello? Hello?

Gray: Ms. Aoyama, what’s wrong?

Aoyama: When I call my boyfriend, the line connects for a moment but always cuts out without a word. I wonder what’s wrong. I’m worried.

The Japanese have found creative ways to use the intransitive term 切(き)れる, which means “to be cut.” Strictly speaking, the term should be used when something long, string-like or circular is cut or broken, as in, 輪(わ)ゴムが切れた。 (The elastic band snapped.) Its metaphorical uses are not as simple:

緊張(きんちょう)の糸(いと)が切れる。 The string of tension was cut. [To cut the tension.]

彼(かれ)との縁(えん)はもう切れた。 I’ve already cut my connection with him. [I cut him out of my life.]

息(いき)が切れた。 Breath has been cut. [I’m out of breath.]

切れる is also used when stocks run out, something has been disconnected or a person has lost their temper.

Situation 2: Mr. Sere and his girlfriend, Yuri, bump into his boss on the street. Afterward, Yuri offers her impression of him.

ゆり: ちょっと話しただけでも、頭の切れる方だって分かるね。

セレ: うん。だけど、家ではちょっとしたことで切れて、コーヒーカップを床にたたきつけたりするっていう噂があるんだよ。

Yuri: Chotto hanashita dake demo, atama no kireru kata datte wakaru ne.

Sere: Un. Dakedo, ie dewa chotto shita koto de kirete, kōhī kappu o yuka ni tataki-tsuketari suru-tte iu uwasa ga aru-n-da yo.

Yuri: We only talked for a bit but you can tell he’s a sharp guy.

Sere: Yeah. However, I’ve heard a rumor that at home he snaps at the slightest thing, smashing coffee mugs on the ground and stuff.

切れる can be used for both the thing that cuts and the thing that is cut:

このナイフはとてもよく切れるので、ちょっと触(さわ)ったら指(ゆび)が切れてしまった。 (This knife cuts so well that even when I touched it slightly I totally cut my finger.)

It can also be used metaphorically, as Yuri does in Situation 2, to describe someone who is sharp, as in 頭(あたま)が切れる.

Bonus Dialogue: Mrs. Okubo is cooking lunch for her family.

母(はは): あっ、塩(しお)が切れちゃった!たか子(こ)、悪(わる)いけど、コンビニに行(い)って、お塩買(か)ってきてくれない?

光男(みつお): あ、ぼくが行くよ。

母: あら、光男、今日(きょう)はめずらしく親切(しんせつ)ね。

光男: 今(いま)ちょうど、今日発売(はつばい)のマンガを買いに行こうと思(おも)っていたから。その代(か)わり、お使(つか)い代(だい)としてマンガ代はもらうよ。

母: まあ、しょうがない。千円(せんえん)で足(た)りるよね?はい、これきのう銀行(ぎんこう)で下(お)ろしてきたばかりの、手(て)が切れるようなお札(さつ)よ。

光男: 行ってきまーす!あっ、しまった。スニーカーのひもが切れた!買い物(かいもの)、行けないや。

母: サンダル履(は)いていけばいいじゃない。

光男: いやだよ、カッコ悪い。誰(だれ)かに会(あ)うかもしれないし。たか子、かわりに買い物に行ってくれ。塩と、いつものマンガだよ。はい、千円で足りるから。

母: なんだか、光男、それって、ずるくない…?

Mother: Oh, the salt has run out! Takako, sorry, but can you go to the convenience store and buy some salt for me?

Mitsuo: Oh, I’ll go.

Mother: Wow, Mitsuo, you’re unusually kind today.

Mitsuo: Just now, I was thinking of buying a manga that’s being released today. In return, give me enough cash to get the manga as well.

Mother: Well, I guess it can’t be helped. ¥1,000 is enough, right? Here, I withdrew this brand-new bill at the bank yesterday, so be careful not to cut your hand.

Mitsuo: I’ll go now! Oops, my shoelace snapped! I can’t go shopping.

Mother: You can wear sandals.

Mitsuo: No way, that’s so lame. I may bump into someone I know. Takako, you go shopping instead; get salt and the manga I always buy. Here, ¥1,000 should be enough.

Mother: Somehow, Mitsuo, isn’t that a bit unfair… ?