Specialized Vocabulary

Learning a new language presents you with some interesting choices. Does grammar come first? Should you put that on hold and just try for as many phrases as possible? How important is it to be able to correctly say "hey, look at those 3 small animals!" without using "ちさい" or "動物"? If I skip "please" and "thank you", will an angrily muttered "日本語分からない!" suffice?

We're in an even more unique situation in that learning the language is optional, and what path we take towards proficiency (or adequacy/fluency, take your pick) is likewise our prerogative. You can forgo reading/writing and instead try and hazard any and all conversations. You can hit the Kanji books like they owe you money. You can even sit on your duff and watch Hard Gay online all day, gleaning bits and pieces of Japanese between pelvis thrusts.

One of our greatest advantages, of course, is being able to go straight for the gut and learning only those phrases and words which apply to and interest us. A lot of you no doubt started that journey with your now trilingual translation of "mas cervezas por favor", and personalized it from there. That the kids shout "PENIS!" at you in the halls is no coincidence (although it is something of a miracle if it's not "PENNISU!"). Case in point: at the Balloon Festa, I spent a bit of time looking for a place to deposit some trash I had before finally deciding to ask one of the cuter yakitori stand girls. She said she could take the trash, and after the usual "oh no please don't inconvenience yourself", "no I insist it is my honor to receive your garbage" exchange, I finally gave her the refuse, to which she belted out an impassioned "I LOVE YOU!". If her hands were not full of trash, I'm pretty sure she would have pulled me over the counter for sloppy make-outs. Ah well - c'est la vive.

If you think about it, you no doubt have your own specialized vocabulary, and it probably reveals something about you. If you have a car, then your motorist's lexicon will likely dwarf that of the average gaijin pedestrian. Any sport will leave you more learned concerning the various equipment you use, and also about the finer anatomy that might be important for issuing/receiving instruction. How can a movie buff be prepared to answer the question of his or her favorite actor or actress if they don't know the words? Nevermind explaining your panty fetish (although there are shops that can probably help you with enough embarrassing gesturing).

My case was somewhat odd as I entered Japan with a vocabulary largely borrowed from manga and anime, meaning I could identify a slew of old weapons and specialized attack names before I could name all of the animals in Japanese. A few days ago my inner otaku became a little more apparent to my coworkers when I was surprised to hear them using the word "さっき" over and over. I tried to join in, but it became apparent pretty quickly that we were using a different meaning. Mr. Dictionary to the rescue:

Their definition: a little awhile ago.
My definition: bloodthirst potent enough to be physically felt.

You can understand our mutual confusion. Turns out there's slightly different intonation between the two, so now I can tell whether somebody became sick just a little awhile ago, or wants to kill me so badly they became sick. Learning's fun!

Not sure what I'll throw up here tomorrow, but it should be something. The posts have a good chance of becoming increasingly ridiculous, so...check back soon, eh?