Tag Archives: English

Murder Is Bad

murder-meme1Peas and Cougars is one of my favorite blogs and the woman who writes it, Rae, pointed out that I would be a bad person and bad things would happen to me if I didn’t share this meme. Just to be safe, I decided it deserved a whole blog post. Allow me to explain.

It’s true that English, especially American English, greedily gobbles up words from other languages, generally mangling the original pronunciation in the process. Excellent examples include kimono, karate and karaoke. I learned the latter here, so the first time I heard it in the States, I had no idea what the person was talking about.

American friend: The place has carry-okie on Thursdays.

Me: Oh, is that some kind of ethnic food?

The other day, we were recording some English lessons for sixth graders and part of one lesson was, ‘I want to be…’ We had ‘I want to be a doctor.’ ‘I want to be a farmer.’ ‘I want to be a patissier.’ The narrator pronounced that last word American style with a hard R at the end. I told the client the correct pronunciation, pointing out that since it was not an English word, we should probably use the proper French pronunciation. Better yet, we could use the perfectly good English equivalent, ‘baker’.

Client: Oh, no. We can’t change the word and we have to use the American pronunciation.

Me: But it’s not an English word. There isn’t an ‘American’ pronunciation. If you say that word to the average American, they won’t know what you’re talking about.

Client: That’s OK. Japanese understand it.

Me: (Carp face.) Uh…OK.

There was a time when such an exchange would send me into a murderous rage, causing my head to explode and raining sticky bits of brain onto the client and anyone else unfortunate enough to be sitting nearby.

But that didn’t happen. I shrugged. I sighed. I let it go.

Meditation Cat says…


Yoga is good. Meditation is good. Not murdering anyone is very good.

Don’t Ask If You Don’t Want to Know

When I got to the studio the other day, I had papers thrust upon me before I could even take off my coat.

Them: Is this right?

Me: No. That’s a transitive verb; it has to have an object.

Them: But the other guy said it was all right.

Me: He was wrong.

Them: But we can do  it this way anyway, right?

Me: Sure, but I’m not going to approve it.

Them: It’s a song. Can we call it poetic license?

Me: Poetic license can’t change a transitive verb into an intransitive one.

Them: But the big kahunas have already approved it this way.

Me: Well, then what’s the point of asking me? We’re trying to teach English. Do you really want to publish this knowing there’s a mistake in it? I can give you other words that will still work with this music.

Them: But the composer really doesn’t want to change it.

Me: Look, if you want to do it this way, then go ahead and do it, but I’m not going to say that it’s OK.

Silence all around. Uncomfortable silence. The Japanese do not like confrontation. I wasn’t being belligerent, but I wasn’t going to give in either.

In the end, the composer agreed to use my alternate words, and even liked them better than the original ones. Match point to mouse, but the war is yet to be won.


Every year, there’s  street performance festival in our neighborhood.  The organizers put together a good selection of comedians, acrobats, jugglers, interpretive artists and such. Some of it is great, some not so much. Maybe it’s not Cirque du Soleil, but it doesn’t cost $200 either.

Unfortunately, this act was rather disturbing.

Backed up by an exceptional jazz combo, this was one of the worst magicians I have ever seen. She did some rather ordinary tricks really badly, dropping both cards and coins, and when she poured wine out of a newspaper, you could see the plastic bag inside it. Then an acrobat took over and when the magician returned she was wearing nothing but a black teddy. She stuck a skewer through her tongue and used a spoon to drive some nails up her nose. Then she pulled out a razor blade. I hate to walk out in the middle of a performance, but…ewww. We decided it was time to move on.

Then there was Kera.

 A relic of a Tokyo that is nearly extinct, our neighborhood has a section of extremely narrow alleys lined with tiny bars and restaurants. Some parts of it are barely negotiable by bicycle. I love wandering around in there.

The powers that be had assigned Kera to an intersection of two of those tiny alleys. There was about a meter between him and the audience and barely any space for passers-by to do their thing, but he made the best of it, and was mesmerizing. The restricted space didn’t stop him from dancing, and he also did some pretty cool stuff with a crystal ball and somehow unsquashed an empty cola can and refilled it. It was like watching time pass in reverse. (Tongue kabob lady could use a few lessons from him.) The last part of the act was a pantomime and at the end of it, he conjured a rosebud out of nowhere and offered it to me.

The little girl sitting in front of me tried to take it but I wouldn’t let her have it.

Hey, don’t judge me. When was the last time a handsome stranger in a sharp suit offered YOU a flower?

Octopus Tales

The idiom hippari dako means “pulled octopus”. The idea is that there’s an octopus where my head should be, and people are pulling all eight legs in different directions.

Hippari dako popped into my head during yesterday’s studio job. There were ten, yes TEN, representatives from the client company, each working on different parts of a big project, and me, expected to check all the materials for each one. It went something like this:

Them: “Please check this, Eda-san.” “Is this right, Eda-san?” “Can I use this expression, Eda-san?” “Was that all right, Eda-san?”

Me: “Yes, that’s fine.” “It’s not wrong but it would sound better this way.” “No. You can say that in Japanese but it sounds silly in English.” “Wait a minute. I just found another mistake in the script.”

To the voice actor: “Gerri, could you do #127 again with the emphasis on this word instead of that one?”

To the tech guy: “Okiyama-san, could you play back #154? Yes, I thought so. We need to take that one again.”

To the director: “Please don’t cover the talkback button with your hand. If you do that, I can’t tell when the actor can hear me.”

Plus the actor only gets a script with his or her own lines on it, so the lines are completely out of context and the actor often doesn’t know how they should be read. So this often happens:

Me: “Just a sec. I need to check the master script. I’m not sure about the intonation.”

And I dive into a flurry of paper trying to locate the scene and confirm the reading. We usually only have one hour with each actor, so we have to move fast.

With that many people crammed into a tiny studio, my octopus did not have enough legs.

Bus Stop

Japanese people do not strike up conversations with strangers. The only exception is to comment on the weather. Even if something extraordinary is happening and a lot of people are watching, they will just look at each other, yearning to comment but unable to make that leap.

The Bus Stop

That being said, I had the strangest experience yesterday. I was waiting for the bus and the woman waiting next to me commented on the humidity. I agreed that it was very uncomfortable, thinking that would be the end of it. But she went on about how awful Tokyo summers are, and I figured that was a pleasant enough way to pass the time while we waited.

When we got on the bus, she sat behind me and by the time we got to the stop where we were both getting off, I had learned that there are eight people living in her house, including her two divorced daughters, each with two elementary school aged kids, each working full time because their deadbeat ex-husbands contribute nothing. They have to eat their meals in two shifts because there are so many of them and they often don’t have anything particularly nice to eat but the kids are very good-natured about that. Although she is 70, she wants to work but can’t because she has to be on-call in case one of the kids develops the sniffles and has to be fetched from school.  She was on her way to meet a friend and they were planning to go to Yamanashi where they might be able to enjoy some better…weather.

As we parted at the station, she thanked me for talking with her about such a variety of topics and I wished her a nice time with her friend. And all of this is just the parts of the conversation that I understood. There were some other parts I didn’t quite get, but it didn’t seem to matter.

I have NEVER had such an intimate conversation with a total stranger outside of long Greyhound bus rides and New York City. At first I thought she was just lonely, but with all those people in her house, that seems unlikely. And she didn’t ask me a single question about myself, so she wasn’t interested in me.

I think she was just stressed out and needed someone to talk to. Anyone. Maybe my being a foreigner made it easier for her. I hope I did her some good.

Sorry, That’s Wrong

I like what I do, mostly. As with any job, some of it is tedious, but mostly I like it. There’s a lot of variety and I never know what to expect.

One thing that does drive me crazy, though, is when people treat me like a rubber stamp. They’ll present me with a completed project and ask me to give it a “quick check”. They insist on using non-English speaking directors/designers/editors/writers, then act surprised when I point out the spelling/grammar/punctuation/capitalization/logic problems. Wouldn’t it be wise to check with me before we get to the final proof stage? So we’ve developed a circular argument that goes something like this:

Them: This is the final version. We can’t change it now. Is it right?

Me: Nope.

Them: Well, can we use it this way anyway?

Me: Sure, if you want to. It’s YOUR video/DVD/CD ROM/magazine/newspaper/research article/Christmas card/t-shirt/lunchbox.

Them: But is it right?

Me: Nope.

And around and around it goes.

On Language

Another silly job today. There are some t-shirts. A little boy says “t-shatsu”. Big sister (not me) tells him how to pronounce it correctly, which he does. End of scene. It took less than an hour to shoot.

Language is a funny thing. I had some time to kill at the office yesterday and stumbled across a French translation of the pop-up book “What’s in the Fridge?” It’s a box shaped like a fridge with an accordion pull-out of illustrations of what you might find in the fridge. I was surprised by some of the words that are the same: chow mein, ketchup, sushi, taco, kumquat. Some were almost the same: soupe alphabet, sauce barbeque. Some I could guess: nouilles (noodles), pieds de cochon marines (pickled pigs feet). Some I would never have guessed: cornes de gazelle (fortune cookies), guimauve (marshmallows), pieuvre (octopus, which by the way is “taco” in Japanese), ignames (yams), vers (worms).

My favorite? Miaoum (cat food). Nom, nom!