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Friday, October 07, 2011

Taihen: everything from "very" to "hard"

大変


The word "taihen" is a handy cover-all item of Japanese vocabulary that can be used in pretty much any situation where an undesirable result or situation has come about, or one which involves or suggests a difficult time ahead for those involved.

In English, it could be loosely translated, depending on degree of formality, from "You have my every sympathy" to "I don't envy you" to "What a pain in the ass." A typical usage is as in the expression Iroiro taihen da to omoimasu ga, gambatte kudasai, or "Looks like you've got quite a job on your hands, but do your best."

Having said that it can be used in such situations, it is not limited to that usage, but can simply mean "enormous(ly)," or "great(ly)," as in "You've been a great help." (Taihen o-sewa ni natte imasu.

The kanji for the word are made up of the character for "great, big" followed by the character for "change": reflecting a conservative mentality that views change as innately undesireable. Note, however, that this is only an etymological observation. The literal meaning of the word "taihen" is not "great change," but the meanings of "hard," "problematic," "arduous," "trying," "weighty," "great," or "very."

An example situation using "taihen" is as follows:

_________________________

Ms. Tanaka: Sato-san, inu-san wa saikin zenzen kikoete imasen yo ne.
佐藤さん、犬さんは最近全然聞こえていませんよね。
(Ms. Sato, you know, we haven't heard your dog at all recently.)

Neighbor. So nan desu yo. Jitsu wa hikarete shimatta no desu yo.
そうなんですよ。実はひかれてしまったのですよ。
(Yes, that's right. Actually, he got run over.)

Ms. Tanaka. Arara, sore wa taihen desu ne.
あらら、それは大変ですね。
(Oh dear, how awful for you!)

Neighbor. So desu ne, kanari taihen deshita. Toku ni kodomo ni wa ne.
そうですね。かなり大変でした。特に子供にはね。
(Yes, it was all quite horrible. Especially for the children, you know.)

Ms. Tanaka. So deshou ne.
そうでしょうね。
(I can imagine.)

Later that evening, at dinner.

Ms. Tanaka: Tonari no inu ga hikarete shindan datte. Dakara saikin konna ni shizuka na no.
となりの犬がひかれて死んだんだって。だから最近こんなに静かなの。
(Apparently the dog next door got run over and died. That's why things have been so quiet recently.)

Mr. Tanaka: So ka. Ore wa sore ga taihen ureshii koto sa.
そうか。俺はそれが大変うれしいことさ。
(That so? Well, I for one couldn't be happier.)

Ms. Tanaka: Maa, kodomo ni wa taihen na koto datta kamoshirenai ga, ano inu wa taihen urusakute taihen datta yo ne.
まあ、子供には大変なことだったかもしれないが、あの犬は大変うるさくて大変だったよね。
(Yes, well, I guess it must have been tough on the children; but that dog was just the noisiest - really awful.)

Mr. Tanaka: Taihen datta yo.
大変だったよ。
(It was a right pain in the ass.)

_________________________

Sate, taihen wa imi to tsukaikata ga iroiro atte chotto taihen da to omoimasu ga, tsukaetara taihen benri desu.
(There you have it. Taihen is rather difficult with its various meanings and usages, but it's really useful once you know how to use it.)

Read more about the Japanese language


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