83 - Japanese Word Play

I love puns. There's something about this simple form of humor that has always made me laugh. Maybe it's because, deep down, I am a grandpa who wants to tell every bad joke that pops into my head!

And as it turns out, the Japanese also love puns. How fortunate for me. Just like in English, Japanese word-play (or ダジャレ) is mostly loved by older crowds. Japanese puns are a staple in 親父ギャグ (おやじギャグ) which literally means “old man jokes.”

Great puns don't need explanation, but as a Japanese learner, you'll have to forgive me while I cover a few puns that are chock full of interesting grammar, slang, and reading practice. We'll have to go ahead and pick them apart. If you don't find them funny, you must be over-analyzing them. These are obviously comedy gold!

These Japanese puns and word play can be a fun way to take a break from more serious studies, while still learning a thing or two. Here are a few popular ones that most Japanese people know:

A container for lemons
(Literally: “lemon + の+ container +thing”)

The most interesting thing about this simple pun is the use of もん as a shortened form of もの. It is such a common bit of slang that Japanese people use all the time, and knowing what it means can be a huge help in understanding more colloquial Japanese.

パン作ったことある? パンツ食ったことある?
Have you ever made bread? Have you ever eaten underwear?
(Literally: "bread + made + have you ever?" "underwear + eaten + have you ever")

This pun is usually told by two children, with the first child asking the second if he has ever made bread, and the second child says "yes." Then the first child says it again, meaning, "You've eaten underwear?!”

Note: Since the pun is told by children to each other, it is spoken in a very informal way, dropping the particles を and が and shortening the verbs.

There are two interesting things in this pun. The first is the use of the word 食う(くう)instead of 食べる(たべる). Essentially both verbs mean “to eat,” but 食う has a stronger sense of something being consumed, so it is used a lot for animals, such as the popular phrase “it’s a dog eat dog world.”

It’s a dog eat dog world.
(Literally: “eat + か+ eat (passive form) +か + world + の + inside + だ”)

The second thing I want to focus on is the grammar point たform +ことがあります, which simply means “have done V.” In this case, the grammar form is shortened, using the colloquial form あるinstead of あります and eliminating the が for a more informal usage.
So if you want to ask someone if they have ever been to Tokyo, you would say

とうきょう に いった こと は ありますか?
Have you ever been to Tokyo?

Or if you are telling someone you have never done something, you can change the ある・あります to ない・ありません.
So if you want to tell someone you have never been to Tokyo it would be

とうきょう に いった こと は ありません。
I have never been to Tokyo.

Is this reindeer an adult?
(Literally: “this + reindeer + adult + かい)

I guess you can use “caribou” in place of “reindeer” in this sentence. They are same animal. (*Today you learned!*) I just like reindeer because it has a Christmassy vibe, and who doesn’t like Christmas?

The stand out in this sentence is the かい instead of か at the end. As you can see, かい is also a questioning particle. かい is very informal and should only be used with close friends. It also had a connotation of asking a yes or no question instead of something more open ended.

So if you want to ask a friend if they are coming to your party you could say:

Will you come?

Here are a few more that need less explanation, I hope you can actually enjoy these ones, its ok to laugh, I promise:

Is there a dolphin?
(Literally: "dolphin + が + is + か")

The frog will return home
(Literally: "frog + が + home + に + return")

My boyfriend is Indian curry.
(Literally: "I + の + boyfriend + は+ Indian curry")

This lesson was written by Cassy L., a guest contributor:

Bonus Phrases

おもしろい ダジャレ しってる?
Do you know any good jokes?

おとうさん、 おやじギャグ は やめて。
Dad, stop telling dad [lame; old man] jokes.

Complete and Continue