Thursday, April 26, 2018

Ossan おっさん

The word ossan means "old man" in Japanese, sometimes translated as "middle-aged man" instead. It's considered to be a relaxed, casual word, and it can either be taken as a cozy way to say "old man" or as a rude way to say "old man." Sometimes it can be used as a derogatory.

Age

The Oxford dictionary defines "middle age" as "the period after early adulthood and before old age, about 45 to 65 [years old]." However, most Japanese dictionaries say you become an ossan after your 30's, much earlier than you'd become a middle-aged man in English.

(of course, it may be used toward someone younger, but that'd be like calling them old.)

Origin

The origin of ossan is the word ojisan おじさん, which means "uncle," but may also refer to a man of certain age. Note that ossan never means uncle, it inherited only the latter meaning, "old man."

Usage

The word ossan is used to refer to men of a certain age, just like ojisan. However, ojisan is a word in the o__san お〇〇さん pattern, it has an honorific prefix and an honorific suffix, it's a very honorable word, while ossan is a bastardization of that.

Generally speaking, you can think of ojisan as a casual but respectful way of referring to a man of a certain age, while ossan is just the casual way of saying that. It's easier to be offended by getting called an ossan. It sounds like the speaker doesn't even respect you enough to say the word right.

Equally, it can be considered a more familiar word when you look at it from another side: the speaker doesn't think you'd mind if he skipped a syllable, because you're pals, right?

Sometimes ossan preceded by the demonstrative pronouns kono, sono, ano like this:
  • ano ossan! あのおっさん!
    That old man!
  • kono ossan! このおっさん!
    This old man! (literally)
    You! You old man!

Like with ojisan, sometimes in anime the word ossan is used toward a young man in his 20's, or, if the speaker is a little child, toward someone even younger. In this case the ossan in question may take offense and correct the speaker, telling him to use onisan お兄さん instead, which means "older brother," but may be used to refer to young men.

Kanji

Regarding how to write ossan with kanji: you don't. Since it's the word ojisan distorted, it kind of lost its kanji, becoming a word that doesn't have kanji. So you can only write ossan using the kana. Normally with hiragana, as ossan おっさん or, rarely, with katakana, as ossan オッサン.

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