And kanji with manga
Saturday, March 23, 2019

kawaii

In Japanese, kawaii 可愛い means "cute," and, sometimes, "pitiable." It's an i-adjective. It's also spelled kawaii かわいい, without kanji, and sometimes clipped to kawa かわ.

Meaning

The word kawaii normally means "cute," "adorable," etc. It's typically used toward children, women, and small animals, just like cute in English.

キャーッ♥ かわいい~~ん 10歳の先生だって~ この子が噂の子供先生か~!!
Manga: Mahou Sensei Negima! 魔法先生ネギま! (Chapter 5, ドッジボール大勝負!!~闘え乙女たち~(前編))
  • Context: Negi Springfield, ネギスプリングフィールド, is welcomed at a classroom.
  • kyaa'♥
    キャーッ♥
    *fangirling noises*
  • kawaii~~n
    かわいい~~ん
    Cu~~ute.
  • juu-sai no sensei datte~~
    10歳の先生だって~
    [He] is a ten year old teacher, [I heard]~~
  • uso~~♥
    ウソーー♥
    [No way]~~.
  • kono ko ga uwasa no {kodomo no} sensei ka~~!!
    この子が噂の子供先生か~!!
    This [boy] is the {child} teacher of the rumors~~?!!
プハー 仕事終わりの1杯は最高だね!! 小林さんかわいい
Manga: Kobayashi-san Chi no Meidoragon 小林さんちのメイドラゴン (Chapter 4, トールと嫉妬)
  • Context: Kobayashi 小林 drinks in the company of Tohru トール.
  • puhaa
    プハー
    *beer sigh*
    (onomatopoeia.)
  • shigoto-owari no ippai wa saikou da ne!!
    仕事終わりの1杯は最高だね!!
    The one glass [after]-work is the best, [isn't it]!!
    • owari - noun form of owaru 終わる, "to end."
    • shigoto-owari - end of work, i.e. after one's work ends.
  • Kobayashi-san φ kawaii
    小林さんかわいい
    Kobayashi-san is cute.
きれいだしやさしいし明るいし可愛いし・・・ オレ胸キュン!だぜ
Manga: Glass Mask, Garasu no Gamen ガラスの仮面 (Chapter 10, 冬の星座)
  • Context: the audience watching the theater play Futari no Joou ふたりの女王, "the two queens," is charmed by the adorable queen Ardis.
  • kirei dashi, yasashii shi, akarui shi, kawaii shi...
    きれいだし やさしい 明るいし 可愛いし・・・
    [She] is pretty, is gentle, is cheerful, is cute...
    • akarui
      明るい
      Bright. Well-lit. The opposite of dark.
      Cheerful.
  • ore, mune-kyun! da ze
    オレ胸キュン!だぜ
    [I'm in love!]

Pitiable

The word kawaii can also mean "pitiable," as in deserving of pity, of sympathy. Things people generally consider cute—small animals, children, etc.—are also easily pitied and protected.

As a consequence, thinking something is kawaii means you'd pity it, and not pitying something means you don't think it's kawaii.

こんな日に外へ出たら、日射病になるぞ。 おとうさんは、自分の子どもが、かわいくないのだろうか。 わかった! ぼくは、ほんとうの子じゃないんだ。
Manga: Doraemon ドラえもん (Chapter 9)
  • Context: Nobita のびた's father told him to do chores outside, despite his complaints about the heat. So Nobita complains even more.
  • konna hi ni soto e detara, nissha-byou ni naruzo.
    こんな日に外たら、日射病になるぞ。
    If [I] leave in a sun like this, [I'll get] a sunstroke!
    • nissha-byou ni naru
      日射病になる
      To become so it's a "sun-shot-sickness."
      To become so it's sunlight-sick.
      To get a sunstroke.
  • otousan wa, jibun no kodomo ga, kawaikunai no darou ka.
    おとうさんは、自分の子どもが、かわいくないのだろうか。
    To father, [his] own child isn't pitiable, [I wonder]?
    • Doesn't he feel sorry for his own child, who has to go outside under the hot sun?
  • wakatta!
    わかった!
    [I got it]!
  • boku wa hontou no ko janai-n-da.
    ぼくは、ほんとうのじゃないんだ。
    I'm not [his] real child.

Pitiful

In general, cute, pitiable things that need to be protected need to be protected because they're weak, frail, small, and so on. The idea they need to be protected by a protector establishes a vertical hierarchy: the inferior, defenseless, weak thing, and the superior, strong protector.

Consequently, calling something cute in English or kawaii in Japanese may carry a nuance of inferiority. Calling something is cute, because it's pitiable, because it's small and weak, is just calling it small and weak with extra steps.

ボイーン うわっ なんじゃそれ!! じ~~ それに比べて四宮はなんというか・・・・・・ お可愛い胸部だな
Manga: Kaguya-sama wa Kokurasetai ~Tensai-Tachi no Ren'ai Zunousen~ かぐや様は告らせたい~天才たちの恋愛頭脳戦~ (Chapter 7, 藤原ちゃんは出かけたい)
  • Context: in this series, calling things kawaii condescendingly is a running gag, in this case said by Shirogane Miyuki 白銀御行 when comparing breast sizes of Fujiwara Chika 藤原千花 and Shinomiya Kaguya 四宮かぐや.
  • boiin
    ボイーン
    *boing*
    (onomatopoeia.)
  • uwa'
    うわっ
    Whoa.
  • nanja sore!!
    なんじゃそれ!!
    (relaxed pronunciation.)
  • ji~~
    じ~~
    *stare*
    (mimetic word.)
  • sore ni kurabete Shinomiya wa nanto iu ka......
    それに比べて四宮はなんというか・・・・・・
    Compared to that, Shinomiya [has], [how do I] say it......
  • o kawaii kyoubu da na
    お可愛い胸部だな
    A cute chest, [I guess].

Conjugation

For reference, how to conjugate kawaii:

kawaii Conjugation Table
Form Translation
Nonpast form
(present tense.)
kawaii
可愛い
To be cute.
Past form kawaikatta
可愛かった
Was cute.
Adverbial form kawaiku
可愛く
Cutely.
Eventivization
(future tense.)
kawaiku naru
可愛くなる
To become cute.
Will be cute.
(unaccusative.)
kawaiku suru
可愛くする
To make cute.
(lexical causative.)
Negative form kawaikunai
可愛くない
To be not cute.
te-form kawaikute
可愛くて
To be cute, and.
Polite form kawaii desu
可愛いです
To be cute.
(polite.)
ba-form kawaikereba
可愛ければ
If is cute.
kawaikerya
可愛けりゃ
(contraction.)
tara-form kawaikattara
可愛かったら
If is cute.
sa-form kawaisa
可愛さ
Cuteness.
meireikei of
kari-conjugation
kawaikare
可愛かれ
Be cute.

かわ

Sometimes, the ~i suffix of i-adjectives is clipped, e.g. sugoi すごい, "incredible," gets pronounced sugo すご, or kowai 怖い, "scary," gets pronounced kowa こわ. This is nonstandard, but can be found sometimes in casual speech.

In the case of kawaii, it also has an ~i suffix, but it's attached to a kawai~ stem, that also ends in ~i. The combination forms a long vowel (two ~i mora), and both ~i's get clipped instead of just the last one, becoming kawa.

The Legendary Yamada Tae 山田たえ, example of overly long sleeves (moe-sode 萌え袖).
Character: The Legendary Yamada Tae 山田たえ
Anime: Zombieland Saga: Revenge (Episode 6)
  • Context: a random social media user comments on the legendary Yamada Tae, who is also known by the pseudonym "number 0," zero-gou ゼロ号.
  • zero-gou kami-kawa!!!!!!!
    0号神かわ!!!!!!!
    Number 0 is super cute!!!!!!!
    • kami

      God. Deity.
      Epic. Super. Top-level. (slang.)
    • kawaii
      可愛い
      Cute. Adorable.
      (~kawa is kawaii with the ~ii part clipped off.)

可哀想

The word kawaisou 可哀想 means "pitiable." It's typically used toward something or someone who appears to be suffering, "miserable," when something hidoi 酷い, "horrible," "cruel," is being done to them. The word is an ateji 当て字 coming from kawai-sou 可愛そう, "seemingly cute," "appearing pitiable." [日本国語大辞典]

  • {{aware de}, {{hito no doujou wo sasou} you na} sama
    あわれで、人の同情をさそうようなさま
    In a way [that] {{is miserable and} seems to {invite people's sympathy}}.

There's a certain anime whose title in a play on this word:

  • bokura wa minna Kawai-sou
    僕らはみんな河合荘
    We're all Kawai-sou.
    We're all miserable.
    • ~sou ~荘 is a suffix for names of housing buildings, like "dormitory," "villa," "complex," etc. In this case, the series takes place in a building called "Kawai complex" in English, or Kawai-sou in Japanese.

Origin

The word kawaii かわいい originates in a change of pronunciation of kawayui かわゆい(デジタル大辞泉:可愛い), which in turn originates in kao-hayushi かおはゆし(also spelled 顔映ゆし), which meant "bashful," "embarrassed," hazukashii 恥ずかしい, omo-hayui 面映い.(デジタル大辞泉:かわゆい)

Both kao 顔 and omo 面 mean "face." Literally, it means someone's face is hayui 映い, hayushi comes from a shiku conjugation of hayui.

This hayui isn't used in modern Japanese, but it's likely synonymous with haeru 映える, "to look attractive," e.g. insuta-bae インスタ映え refers to a photo that would look good if posted in Instagram, an Instagrammable photo.

In summary: kao-hayushi meant looking bashful meant looking nice, which then meant looking cute.

うは、かわゆい娘がいる。 美羽さんもかわゆいけどこの娘もまた・・・ この道場の生徒かなぁ?
Manga: Shijou Saikyou no Deshi Ken'ichi 史上最強の弟子ケンイチ (Chapter 7, 梁山泊)
  • Context: boy sees girl.
  • uha, {kawayui} ko ga iru.
    うは、かわゆいがいる。
    Wow, there is a {cute} girl [here].
  • Miu-san mo kawayui kedo kono ko mo mata...
    美羽さんもかわゆいけどこのもまた・・・
    Miu-san, too, is cute, but girl, too, [is cute]...
    (incomplete sentence.)
    • kono ko mo mata kawaii
      この娘もまた可愛い
      This girl, too, is cute.
    • See laughter lines for the #-shaped symbol next to his face.
  • kono doujou no seito ka naa?
    この道場の生徒かなぁ
    A student of this dōjō, [I wonder]?

References

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