Odd Language #220: Odd Insults

When one does not know the rules of politeness, one is walking in a minefield.

In Japanese, the word “kisama” can be a nasty insult.

What does it mean? A rough translation is “honourable you”.

From a Western perspective, it is odd that this is an insult. Why is it an insult?

As I understand it, pronouns are not used much in Japanese to refer to a person in second person. One should use the person’s name and the appropriate honorific. The insult is that one did not bother to use the person’s name. Not knowing the person’s name is not a defence; one should find out.

Clear now? Well, no. According to the sci.lang.japan FAQ, “However, naval officers in the Imperial navy referred to each other as kisama.”

Does this mean that Japanese does not have many pronouns? No. It has scads of them. Some of them are on the above link’s page.

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