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Tweet of the Week #72: How Japanese Hear Rage Against The Machine Lyrics

Wait... that song is definitely not about sharing chicken nuggets.

By 3 min read

Have you ever listened to a song in a foreign language and misheard the lyrics, giving them a completely different meaning? That phenomenon called mondegreen happens when you’re trying to make some kind of sense of a song you can’t understand clearly.

Japanse Engrish

English pronunciation is quite hard for Japanese people. On top of having difficulties with pronunciation, they struggle with word and sentence stresses as well as distinguishing certain sounds (especially “r” and “l”).

While the linguistic differences between Japanese and English partly explain Japanese peoples’ difficulties with English, katakana is another major culprit. Japanese students who rely too much on katakana have a hard time pronouncing and hearing English correctly. So when they hear English songs, they tend to fill in the gap with phonetically close Japanese words.

Pop-rock bank Monkey Majik, lead by singer Taiiku Okazaki, poked fun at this phenomenon perfectly in their clip “留学生りゅうがくせい” (exchange student). Sung in English with some Japanese lyrics, the video displays Japanese subtitles phonetically close to the English lyrics. While English speakers hear a traditional love ballad, Japanese people hear a discouraged exchange student lamenting himself.

For example, the chorus:

“You gotta stay / Hey, I need you here babe / I messed up, should’ve known last time I met ya”

sounds like this in Japanese:

Ryūgakusei (留学生) / Heya nijyū heibei (部屋へや20にじゅう 20にじゅう平米へいべい) / Miso shiru nomitaiwa meccha (味噌汁みそしるみたいわめっちゃ)”

The translation would be something like, “Exchange student / My room is 20 square meters / I want to drink miso soup very much.”

Killing in the name of… nuggets?

Twitter blew up last week with this hilarious video of a Japanese family sharing nuggets to Rage Against The Machine’s song Killing In The Name.

This video was made by the TV show 空耳そらみみアワー (“Mishearing Hour”), broadcast by TV Asahi between 2004 and 2019. The show invites viewers to submit foreign songs’ lyrics whose pronunciation can somehow be misinterpreted by Japanese ears.

空耳アワーの「ナゲットってとうちゃん」ほんとき = I really like “share the nugget” from Mishearing Hour

The short clip focuses on the song chorus and the Japanese interpretation is quite… dramatic:

And now you do what they told ya = Nagetto watte touchan (ナゲット割って父ちゃん) which means “share the nuggets (with my) dad.”

Those who die = Dou sundai (どうすんだい) which means, “whatcha doing!?”

Classic.

What do you like?

Talking about what you like & dislike in Japanese is relatively easy. You’ve got the classic duo of words 好き and きら to help out.

アニメが好きです = I like anime

アニメが嫌いです = I don’t like anime

Easy peasy, right? However, 嫌い is quite strong for Japanese people, who tend to soften negativity by beating around the bush a lot. We recommend you use the following expression, which brings in a kinder nuance:

アニメがあまり好きではない  = I don’t really like anime that much.

The same can actually be said for 好き. People shy about their 趣味しゅみ (hobbies) can play down how much they like something by saying they don’t *hate* it.

アニメが嫌いではない = I don’t dislike anime.

There you have it, a way around saying you like something that fits right in with the Japanese stereotype that they can’t frankly express their feelings.

Vocabulary

Japanese Romaji English
留学生りゅうがくせい ryuugakusei exchange student
部屋へや20にじゅう  heya room
20にじゅう平米へいべい nijyuu heibei 20 square meters
味噌汁みそしる misoshiru miso soup
みたい nomitai want to drink
めっちゃ mecchya very much
空耳そらみみアワー hatsumimi awaa Mishearing Hour
ナゲット nagetto nuggets
waru share, cut
とうちゃん tou chan dad, daddy
ほんと honto really
suki like
どうすんだい dou sundai Wacha doing!?
アニメ anime anime
きら kirai dislike
あまり amari too much or not very/quite depending on context

For more on learning Japanese

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