Friday, November 17, 2017

masaka まさか

The word masaka means "it can't be," right? Or "could it be," right? That's its meaning, right? That what masaka means in Japanese, right? I mean, bakana! doesn't actually mean "impossible!" So... could it be that... masaka...?!


Sure. The word masaka doesn't literally mean "it can't be." That makes no sense. The phrase "it can't be" has a pronoun, an auxiliary verb, and a copulative verb. That's too much stuff for a single word to represent.

Although, to be honest, you can translate masaka as "could it be" and be correct half of the time, even if it sounds a little weird.

masaka まさか examples from manga Meitantei Conan 名探偵コナン

Basically, what the word masaka really means is: "something you don't think will happen." It can refer to anything that's unlikely to happen, to be, or to exist. Anything that's out of consideration. Unexpected.

So masaka doesn't mean "there's no way!" or "could it be?!" It means the thing that makes you say "there's no way!" or "could it be?!"

Because of this, masaka often ends up being used as an expression of surprise, or, more specifically, an expression of disbelief.

For example, if something absurd appears to be happening, you say: masaka! Is that really happening? I didn't think this would happen! I can't believe it!

The worst possible scenario appear to be occurring, you say: masaka! How could that be! That's the worst possible thing! We planned for this! Our odds of success were 99.99%!!!1111

By the way, to say just "unexpected" in Japanese, the word would be igai 意外.

"Could it be...?!"

Let's see some examples. First, of a common meaning of masaka: "Could it be...?!"
  • masaka, teki!? まさか、敵!?
    Could it be, enemies!?
    I didn't think this would happen, but: [are those] enemies!?
  • masaka, sore honki de itteru!? まさかそれ本気で言ってる!?
    Could it be, you're seriously saying that!?
    I didn't think this would happen, but: are you seriously saying that?
  • masaka, hontou-ni shinda!? まさか、本当に死んだ!?
    Could it be, he really died!?
    I didn't think this would happen, but: he really died!?

"I can't believe it!"

The word masaka can also be translated as "I can't believe it" most of the time. For example, the examples above, you can replace "could it be" with "I can't believe it." See:
  • I can't believe it! Enemies!?
  • I can't believe it! You're seriously saying that!?
  • I can't believe it! He really died!?

"There's no way!"

Likewise, it can be translated as "there's no way" and other synonyms of I can't believe it. Again, the same examples from before:
  • There's no way those are enemies, right?
  • There's no way you're seriously saying that, right?
  • There's no way he really died, right?

"I didn't expect it"

Next, another common meaning of masaka: "I didn't expect (something to happen.)" Or "I wasn't expecting (something to happen." This is an adverb. See:
  • masaka... konna koto ni naru nante! まさか…こんなことになるなんて!
    I didn't expect it turn out like this [of all things]!
    I can't believe it turned out like this!
    I didn't think this would happen, but: it [ended up] turning out like this!
  • masaka kisama ga koko ni kuru to-wa na... まさか貴様がここに来るとはな…
    I wasn't expecting you to come here.
    I can't believe you [have] come here.
    I didn't think this would happen, but: you [have] come here.

Note that masaka is extremely versatile, and while some translations fit it most of the time, sometimes it only makes sense in a way. For example:
  • masaka, hontou-ni shinda?! まさか、本当に死んだ?!
    I can't believe it, he really died?!
  • masaka hontou-ni shinu nante まさか本当に死ぬなんて
    I didn't expect him to really die.
If you reverse the above you get:
  • I didn't expect it, he really died?!
  • I can't believe he really [ended up] dying.

Although "I can't believe" seems to be a pretty good match for masaka, "I didn't expect" sounds weird in the first phrase.

"I thought I could do this, but I can't!"

When masaka is adverb for a verb in the potential negative, it ends up meaning you thought you'd be able to do something, but it turns out you can't. For example:
  • doushitemo ienai どうしても言えない
    I can't say it no matter what.
  • masaka ienai まさか言えない
    I didn't think this would happen, but: [I] can't say [it].
    (for example, you thought you would be able to tell something important to someone, but when you were about to, you couldn't say it.)

"Of course not"

Next we have masaka that means "of course not."

Again, the word masaka refers to something you didn't think would happen. Usually, this is used for things that have indeed happened, betraying your expectations, leaving you in surprise and disbelief. But in this case it refers to stuff that isn't true, as you expected it.

That is, you use masaka to mean "of course not" when someone else says something they think might be true, and then you say masaka, to mean what they said isn't true and would never be true.

Another way to think about it is: you would be surprised and in disbelief if it were true.

A couple of examples:
  • honki de itteiru?! 本気で言っている?!
    Are [you] saying [it] seriously?
  • masaka! まさか!
    Of course not!
    (I would never say something like that.)
  • masaka, joudan yo! まさか、冗談よ!
    Of course not, it was a joke!
Dialogue 暗いところでも 見えるんですか…? まさか 練習をした from manga Goblin Slayer ゴブリンスレイヤー
Manga: Goblin Slayer.
  • (Goblin Slayer slays a goblin that was hidden in the darkness of the cave.)
  • kurai tokoro demo

    暗いところでも 見えるんですか…?
    • Even dark places [you] can see?
    • [You] can see even [in the dark]?
  • masaka まさか
    [Of course not.]
    (if someone told me they could see in the dark I wouldn't believe them either!)
  • renshuu wo shita
    [I] practised.

Sono masaka!!!

The phrase sono masaka そのまさか, in other words, "that masaka," is, obviously, referring to that masaka. But what does that mean?!?!?! What is even a masaka, and how does one refer to it?

Basically, masaka means something you think is unlikely. When someone says something they think is unlikely, maybe even using the word masaka explicitly, that thing they said is, technically, a masaka. So sono masaka refers to something someone said didn't think could happen.

Normally, sono masaka also implies that unlikely imagined scenario DID ACTUALLY HAPPEN. So you could translate it as: "that's exactly what happened!"

For example:
  • masaka, ore-tachi wo uragitta no ka yo!? まさか、俺達を裏切ったのかよ!?
    Could it be, you betrayed us!?
    I didn't think this would happen, but: you betrayed us!?
  • sono masaka!!! そのまさか!!!
    That's exactly what happened!
    Yes, that! (thing you thought was unlikely.)

Masaka no...?! (adjective)

This one is a bit more rare, but also exists. When you turn masaka into an adjective through the no particle, that is, the phrase masaka no, you're describing something which you didn't think could happen.

Often, this means something unexpected and bad happened. An emergency. And you would be asked "if masaka no ... happened, what would you do?" The phrases below can also be used to say that masaka no ... HAS happened.
  • masaka no toki まさかの時
    The most unexpected time. (a time that always catches you by surprise)
    An emergency. Urgency. The time of need.
    A time you don't think would happen.
  • masaka no baai まさかの場合
    The most unexpected situation.
    A situation of emergency.
    A situation you don't think would happen.
  • masaka no jiko まさかの事故
    The most unexpected accident.
    An emergency with victims, probably.
    An emergency you don't think would happen.

  • masaka ga okoru mae ni risuku wo yobou suru まさかが起こる前にリスクを予防する
    Before the unexpected happens, prevent the risks.

Of course, not all unexpected things are bad things. Sometimes it's just used to refer to something you weren't expecting and caught you by surprise. For example:
  • masaka no tenkai まさかの展開
    The most unexpected development! (unfolding of a story)
  • masaka no 1000 pointo! まさかの1000ポイント!
    The unexpected 1000 points! (I got them! Yay!)
  • masaka no yandere! まさかのヤンデレ!
    The unexpected yandere! (I didn't think such character would appear!)

masaka no kokeshi まさかのこけし, example of masaka no from the manga Nichijou 日常

And, of course, the title of this webnovel, which is basically a summary of every school harem anime ever:

Kanji of Masaka

One last thing, masaka can be written with hiragana or kanji. It's normally written with hiragana: masaka まさか. But it technically has a kanji version, too: masaka 真逆.

The kanji of masaka 真逆 are "true" (ma 真 of masshiro 真っ白, "true/pure white") and "reverse" or "opposite" (saka 逆, of Sakasama no Patema 逆様のパテマ, "Patema Inverted/Upside Down").

This could be because something masaka is "truly the opposite" of what you'd expect, but that's just me trying hard to explain the kanji. Could also mean nothing.

By the way, masaka has the same kanji as another word, magyaku 真逆 (gyaku 逆 same as Gyakuten Saiban 逆転裁判, "Judgement of Reversals/Ace Attorney"). And magyaku means "total opposite." Not really the same thing as masaka.

It'd be confusing to write both words the same way, so masaka is normally written without kanji, as masaka まさか, not masaka 真逆.

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  1. In American English there is the idiomatic expression "No Way!" to express "it can't be." or surprise about something that is normally not expected to happen actually happening.