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Thursday, January 08, 2009


mama is a word that crops up very frequently in Japanese conversation. It has two meanings:

1. the native Japanese meaning of “as is,” written in kanji as 儘, and,

2. the meaning of “momma," imported, clearly, from English, and written in katakana as ママ.

Today we’re going to look at the no.1 meaning of “as is" (儘).

Perhaps the most common phrases using mama are “kono mama,” or “sono mama,” or “ano mama” – respectively “just like this,” and “just like that” (sono and ano both meaning “that," but ano being a “that” that is more distant from the speaker than sono).

For example, at the supermarket checkout, when all you have bought is a pack of chewing gum:

Clerk: “Fukuro wa ikaga desu ka?” (Would you like a bag for that?)
Customer: “Iie, sono mama de ii desu.” (No, it's fine just like that. / No, it’s fine as it is.)

Another phrase where you find mama is in the term wagamama. Waga means “my, one’s own,” which, conjoined with mama means “just as I am.” To the Westerner, that might sound nobly unaffected and honest; but in Japanese it has the wholly negative meaning of someone who asserts their own desires and expresses their own personality traits without any regard for those of others, or, in other words, someone who behaves like a little child, ignorant or, worse, careless, of social mores and expectations. Boiled down to a single English word, it is usually translated as "selfish," although that really only expresses a part of its full meaning.

Another useful phrase using mama is mama-naranai. Naranai is the negative form of naru, which is the verb “to become". So mama-naranai means to “not work out the way you want(ed) it to”. For example:

Monogoto wa mama-naranai (Things never go just the way we want.)

By the way, you'll often hear mama pronounced mam-ma as a colloquial way of reinforcing the meaning.

Sono mama de owarimasho! (And without further ado, let’s leave off there!)

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