Little things that can make a world of difference, part 2

Following on from this post

A few months ago, I was caught by a meme that a friend wrote on the Japanese equivalent of Facebook. In it were a couple of questions that took me a while to figure out, involving the terms 「告る」 and 「振る/振られる」.

According to the 大辞林 dictionary, 「告る」is the way that young people say 「告白する」, which means “to confess”, usually in the context of confessing love for someone in the hope that they’ll agree to go out with you. 「振る」 means to reject or turn down such a confession, and 「振られる」 = “to be rejected”. These terms are widely used in Japanese society, where the normal way for relationships to proceed is for one or other party to confess, and the other to either accept or reject. Inviting someone out for a meal or movie is often seen as akin to a confession, largely because anyone seeing the two of you together will immediately assume that you are a couple.

Western culture has a markedly different approach to dating. I could certainly be generalising too much, but it seems to be far more common for people to go on casual dinner/movie etc dates as friends first, or simply to start snogging at a party or club somewhere. Dates with friends (same or opposite sex) are quite normal, and most people don’t assume anyone is dating until they see or hear about affectionate behaviour or evidence thereof, or until you actually tell them.

This particular difference between Western and Japanese culture only came to mind again recently, when I finally started reading light novels. I wouldn’t have noticed were it not that I’m using the English translations of the series to supplement my average (and slowly improving) reading ability, but in my first series, 「振られた」 has been translated as “dumped” several times. To me, “dumped” includes the nuance that there was once a close relationship between the two people in question. In other words, in the case of a romantic relationship, you can only be “dumped” if you were actually going out. This nuance isn’t mentioned in any online dictionaries I can find, but I have never seen or heard “was dumped” to mean “was rejected”, as the Japanese actually means in this case. But if it had been translated as “rejected”, would it make sense in Western cultures, where the first step is either becoming friends or making out on the dance floor? Edit (2010-02): see note below.

Of course, this particular meaning of the verb “to dump” could be changing. A friend of mine used it recently in a situation similar to those in the novels, because it has such a ring of finality to it. But even she acknowledged that she was using it quite freely, because the relationship wasn’t exactly official. But it’s these little things that really make me glad I’m in Japan, learning about the little details that help things in manga, anime and drama (etc) make just that much more sense.

p.s. I think “dumped by ~” can be expressed by「〜に捨てられた」 in Japanese. For “broke up with ~”, it’s 「〜と別れた」.

Note (2010-02): Now I’m even more confused. I’m just listening to a drama cd, in which 「振られた」 has indeed been used to mean “I was dumped”, whilst in the novel I’m referring to above, “dumped” still sounds wrong to me. I need to listen to more drama CDs…but I’m guessing that this is one of those instances where English and Japanese just don’t have exactly equivalent terms.

About karice
MAG fan, freelance translator and political scientist-in-training. I also love musicals, travel and figure skating!

One Response to Little things that can make a world of difference, part 2

  1. Pingback: Translation headaches « HOT CHOCOLATE IN A BOWL

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