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8 Japanese Slang Words (You Shouldn’t Overuse)

While Japanese people have a reputation as the most polite people in the world, they have their own share of slang words which are often not very polite. Some of the words are very rude and better off not used at all. Some, however, like the words I’m going to introduce you today are worth remembering. There are a few you probably should avoid altogether but they are still worth remembering as it’s very likely you will run into them somewhere at some point.

As the title says, you should be very careful not to overuse these words. That is, unless you’re still in junior high and want to be cool but even in that case, you might want to know some newer and more special slang words instead – everyone knows these ones, so you won’t get any special attention saying these. These are also inappropriate in formal situations so you might wish you never knew them before a job interview for example.

Monkeys at Nikko World Heritage Site, Japan
Using these words in wrong situations might end up like this: you are the one in the middle by the way.

1. すごい (sugoi)

This word can have different collocations depending on the situation but basically it means that something is “amazing” or “very nice”, having pretty much the same meaning as とてもいい (totemo ii). You will probably hear sugoi a lot, especially when you use your amazing Japanese first time in front of someone. You probably realize this yourself as well but just in case you don’t, I should tell you that sugoi doesn’t always mean amazing. Not really. It can also mean a very sarcastic “oh great” or something like “yeah, just keep on boasting on how amazing you are”. It’s also a nice word when you have nothing else to say so it’s not always a sincere compliment.

Sugoi can also be used as an adverb when it can be either altered to sugoku or used as it is. When using sugoi as an adverb, the word can be translated as “very” or “really” so it can also be used in negative sentences. For example, I could say すごい嫌だ (sugoi iyada) – “I so don’t want to do that.” Sugoi also often change to sugee which is used especially by boys/men.

2. めっちゃ (meccha)

Meccha has the same meaning as sugoi used as an adverb: it translates to such words as “very” or “really”. You can use it for both positive or negative things but positive meanings seem to be a bit more common – this might have something to do with the fact that Japanese people say positive things more than negative things to begin with though. You might hear your close friends say めっちゃまずい (meccha mazui = this tastes so bad) when you eat something together but if you aren’t that close yet, it’s more likely you will hear something like めっちゃ美味しい (meccha oishii) which means the food is very delicious or めっちゃ楽しい (meccha tanoshii = super fun!).

3. やばい (yabai)

Yabai is a very versatile word you can use in pretty much any situation. Unless you are a junior high schooler, you should avoid overusing it though: if you do, it’s very likely you will be regarded as a little dumb. If you don’t mind what others are thinking though, yabai is a nice word because it can be used in pretty much any situation.

Imagine a situation where…
…you just left your house and realized you forgot your keys inside? Yabai, I’m locked out!
…you missed a train and realized you can’t make it to work in time? Yabai, I will get scolded!
…added sugar to spaghetti sauce instead of salt? Yabai, this will taste horrible!
…your friend just said something extremely hilarious? Yabai, I can’t stop laughing!
…your friend just told me she broke up with her boyfriend? Yabai!
…a celebrity did something hilarious/dangerous/stupid/strange/cute in tv? Yabai!

The same way as sugoi sometimes becomes sugee, yabai is also sometimes pronounced as yabee.

4. ダサい (dasai)

Dasai is something no one wants to be – uncool. You can use this whenever when you see someone doing something totally uncool. It’s also a great word to remember when you have a meet-up with your friend and he arrives wearing something horribly weird. You can greet him with a nice, friendly “Dasai! Did you look at the mirror before leaving the house?”. You might want to avoid doing this to friends you actually would like to keep though.

5. うざい (uzai)

Although dasai is often used as a joke, uzai is a little more hurtful. My Japanese friends use it mostly when watching tv or when talking about people they really don’t like. I have also heard this a lot when listening to my friends’ sibling quarrels. Uzai is originally a shortened version of urusai, which could be translated as loud or annoying but is often translated as “shut up!” especially in comics. Uzai also means pretty much the same. Basically, if someone annoys you, you could say uzai and the person will most probably shut up (and get sad or angry at you).

6. きもい (kimoi)

Kimoi originates from 気持ち悪い (kimochi warui), meaning that something is disgusting, gross or creepy. Often seen in manga or anime, one of the worst ways to reject a love confession is to tell the one who just told he likes you that he’s gross – kimoi. This word is pretty harsh when said towards a person but it can be used safely when talking about food or animals for example.

Hotaruika (firefly squid)
You might find these tiny cuties called hotaruika (firefly squid) kimoi but they are actually very delicious! You might want to take eyes off before biting though as they are a bit hard.

7. まじ (maji)

A great word for emphasizing most of the words introduced above: まじやばい, まじダサい, まじうざい and まじきもい are all commonly used word compounds. Using these might make you blend in with the native Japanese but it might also make all the Japanese people around you wonder where on the earth you learned Japanese. As I don’t want KettiNotes to become famous like that, please think twice before using these too much.

Maji means pretty much the same as meccha or sugoku, often being a bit more stronger. You can also use it alone when you hear something very surprising: まじ!? (“is that really true?”). It’s also possible to use maji when answering a question like this.

A: I’m going to get married next week.
B: まじ!?
A: まじ。

You might also hear まじで which means pretty much the same. Asking my blogging partner Ken, まじで is apparently used a bit more when questioning, まじ being more common in word compounds.

8. かも (kamo)

This is actually just an abbreviated version of かもしれない (kamoshirenai) meaning something like “possibly” or “maybe” depending on the situation. I personally use this a lot, not only because it’s short but because it’s my 口癖 (kuchiguse) – a personal trait of speech I just can’t get rid of. You can add this to end of a sentence not only when you’re not sure about something but also when you want to soften the expression you are using. I’m not sure if anyone will be any happier to hear きもいかも than きもい alone but at least you can try.

You should also remember that かも has partially lost its original meaning lately as there are people who just add it in the end of the sentence with no particular reason or meaning. Like me for example.

Birds in a seaside park in Chiba
かもかも. This is a pun as kamo also means duck – かもかも would translate to “(this) might be a duck”. By the way, I highly doubt the birds in this picture are ducks.

That’s it for this time. I will introduce you more Japanese slang words later on but for now, go on and practice these 8. Don’t blame me if you get someone offended though – I told you to be careful when using these.


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