Sunday, 24 May 2009

chirari-to (ちらりと)

One of the many things that makes learning languages fascinating is the completely different way that other languages view and express the same thing. Even between similar languages like English and French, this can sometimes result in words that are absolutely impossible to translate without a lot of context, moche for example (probably most simply glossed as "not very nice", but it can be "ugly" and a whole range of "not nice"-like meanings).

With completely unrelated languages like English and Japanese, this happens all the time. Thanks to my teacher, I just came across an especially nice one, chirari-to, written only in hiragana (
ちらりと). It's so hard to translate that most Japanese-English dictionaries don't even have it as an entry. If they do, they just give it in one or two fixed phrases like chirarito miru, to glance at.

But in fact, it can be used in made-up phrases and has a stand alone meaning all of its own, which is something like "glancingly". Combined with "to hear",
chirarito mimi ni iru, it means "to overhear by chance". My teacher agreed that chirarito nioi o kagu (i.e. with "to smell") could mean "to catch a whiff". She didn't think that chirarito yomu (with "to read") is something people would say, but then I found it on someone's blog (chirari to yonda manga - a manga that I happened to read).

Which makes me wonder how far you can take this. I wonder whether in the right context you could use
chirarito korosu, "to kill by chance and without it being really important", as some samurai might say about a peasant he'd beheaded for being in the way on his journey home? Best yet would be chirarito haru, since haru (broadly, "to stretch") is another of those impossible-to-translate words with dozens of meanings depending on the exact context. It's enough to give a translator nightmares.

(Apologies for the romaji, when I tried to type hiragana I got very unexpected results and it was just too hard to do).

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