Simanaitis Says

On cars, old, new and future; science & technology; vintage airplanes, computer flight simulation of them; Sherlockiana; our English language; travel; and other stuff


A LITTLE KNOWLEDGE, it’s said, can be a dangerous thing. My knowledge of the Japanese language certainly qualifies as meager, though the game I’ve been playing isn’t dangerous at all.


The game involves my computer’s Google Translate and my nearly 40-years-old Modern Colloquialisms Japanese-English, by Edward G. Seidensticker and Michihiro Matsumoto.


Modern Colloquialisms Revised Japanese-English, by Edward G. Seidensticker and Michihiro Matsumoto, Asahi, 1977.

Words in this dictionary are arranged alphabetically, but in romanji or romanized Japanese, not alphabetized by their English meanings. Thus, for instance, daiji-o-toru (play it safe) is on the same page as daikon’ashi (beer barrel legs).
My game is to analyze the colloquialism with help from Google Translate.


Daikon radish. Image from

For instance, daikon’ashi/beer barrel legs is easy-peasy. Daikon is Japanese radish; ashi is leg. And, in fact, any leg, comely or not, looks a lot more like a daikon than a beer barrel.

Google Translate is fine with daiji-o-toru/play it safe too. Omit the “o” (which might be there for grammatical reasons I don’t understand) and it means “take care.”

Google Translate’s version of Hara-ni-ichimotsu-aru/have something up one’s sleeve offers a tantalizing tale: “There is also a two-is Rani position.”

This sounds pivotal to me.


However, Japanese is a language rich in homonyms (entire poems can be composed with parallel multiple meanings). And fooling around with individual syllables yields a possibility of possessing something in one’s belly.

But I’m only guessing. Maybe I should try Rani’s two-is position.

Google Translate fails with inakappe/hick. When stymied, it just repeats itself (sort of like I do). On the other hand, it comes up with “countryside” for inaka. So let’s give partial credit for this one.

Full marks on sarumane/monkey see, monkey do. However, what with the famous three wise monkeys at Nikko, I’d think Google Translate is a bit pedantic with just “indiscriminate imitation.”

Similarly, Google Translate takes the book’s oishasangokko-o-suru/play doctor and transforms it into “medical play.” In one of its comments, Modern Colloquialisms Japanese-English tells it like it is: “Mrs. White’s little boy got caught playing doctor with the neighborhood girls.”

Dame!/No good!


When James Bond asks for a swear word, he is offered rather less than he might have expected.

James Bond fans will be heartened to hear that both sources do fine with shimatta. The book pairs it with “Darn it!” Google Translate says “Oops.”

I say, Yoku yotta!/Well done! ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2016

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