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Thursday, July 02, 2015

Blunders and Bloops in Japanese

失敗 間違い 誤り

Betty Boop - blunders and bloops in the Japanese language.
"Whoops" (from picgifs.com)

The recent failure of the latest SpaceX rocket launch. The ongoing Takata airbag recall and NHTSA problem. Not everything goes according to plan. (How's that for a wakarikitta koto 分かりきったこと, or truism?)

Things go wrong, and if English has plenty of words for things going wrong, you can be sure that Japanese, in its lexical richness, has at least as many.

machigai 間違い is the most basic word for a mistake in Japanese, and is a term familiar even to beginners. The verb is machigau "to make a mistake, to be mistaken"   and is usually encountered in its past or progressive forms: machigatta or machigatte iru (more commonly elided to machigatteru).
Kare no iken wa matigatte iru 彼の意見はまちがっている His opinion is mistaken/wrong.
Sore wa machigatta iken desu それは間違った意見だ That's a mistaken opinion.
An iimachigai (the ii coming from the verb iu, to say) is a politician's favorite mistake: a slip of the tongue.

shippai 失敗 also means mistake, but in a different sense from machigai. While machigai is something that you (rightly or wrongly) consider mistaken, and is therefore largely subjective, shippai has a more objective sense of ‘failure in the course of trying to achieve something.’
DJ ga renzoku ni shippai o shite, setto ga dame ni natta. DJが連続に失敗をしてセットがだめになった。The DJ made a series of mistakes and spoiled his set.
 Using the word machigai in this sentence wouldn't raise any Japanese eyebrows, but shippai more fully expresses the sense of hands-on "blunder" or "mishap" as opposed to the more general "mistake."

ayamari 誤り is very close in meaning to shippai, and in many cases can be used interchangeably without any problem; but whereas a shippai is typically an unintentional act done by  a human, an ayamari can be more disembodied. For example, ayamari is used in software terminology to describe an error, such as chimeiteki ayamari 致命的誤り a fatal error, which may well be due to human error, but is somewhat removed from human hands.
Reshipii ni ayamari ga atte, kekkyoku shippai shita. レシピーに誤りがあって結局失敗した。
“There was a mistake in the recipe, so in the end I failed."

This illustrates the subtle difference between ayamari and shippai, with ayamari being something wrong with the text involved (i.e., a “system error”), and shippai being something wrong with the physical result. The aborted cake, bread or cookies of the last example sentence could be called shippaisaku 失敗作 meaning a failed creative work, a flop, a dud–the saku meaning a "work" as in "work of art."

Incidentally, ayamari can also mean an apology, but it uses a different kanji, 謝り.
Ayamari to ayamari o machigawanaide ne   誤りと謝りを間違わないでね。 Don't make mistakes with ayamari and ayamari, OK?

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