Monday, May 30, 2005


Reader Dimitri emails:

"Hello Tian, I am a long time reader of your blog. Last week while visiting the city of Val-d'Or (Quebec) in Canada, I found the following plastic leg 'tattooed' in the front window of a tattoo parlor. In this picture, you can clearly see the character is upside down. Could it be they wanted to make sure the tattooed person will be able to read his own tattoo?"

The character shown on the leg is an upside down 鹿, which means "deer" in Chinese.

In Japanese, when it is combined with (horse); as in 鹿, it means "fool, idiot", and 鹿 means "stupid foreigner[s]".


  1. "馬鹿外人" is not grammatically correct, no matter how many people put it on t-shirts.

    Considering that the kanji for 馬鹿 is not used all that often, the correct rendition would be "バカな外人."

  2. Sorry, but grammatically correct or not, people do say "baka gaijin" without "na" more often than with it, and the kanji is in fact used at least as much as the katakana.

    An easy way to check for how people are actually using the language is to use For example, there are 2,790,000 web pages using 馬鹿 written with kanji. There are 3,040,000 using "バカ” but surely in some of those cases those two syllables next to each other within other words and so I think you'll agree that the kanji for baka is used at least as often as the katakana.

    There are 7,130 web pages containing ”馬鹿外人” while your preference of "バカな外人" only appears on 1,520 pages (for the record, ”馬鹿な外人”appears on 1,790 pages).

    If you are going to make pronouncements about language usage on this website, please have something to back them up so that people are not led astray.

  3. More for the record--only 7,930 hits for "stupid foreigner," and at least some of those just look like translations of a "baka gaijin" shirt.

  4. There are plenty of incorrect phrases in any language on the Internet. Just because they are common does not make them correct. Some are intentional (a la "kthxomgbbq"), and some are due to ignorance (the word "alot" appears quite often, but it is not a real word).

    Not speaking the language in question, I cannot comment on anything other than the method. Using Google results to "prove" things is a bit like voting on a scientific fact.

  5. "There are plenty of incorrect phrases in any language on the Internet. Just because they are common does not make them correct. "

    I compared all possible ways of saying it (with and without the particle "na" and in both kanji and katakana) to find the most common usage. To me, this, by definition, equal "correct". It's quite clear that Japanese speakers are indeed using the phrase without the "na" and with kanji for baka.

  6. But due to the nature of language and how it evolves, "voting" is actually the best way to decide whether something is acceptable or not!

    In any case, even if you wanted to be prescriptive, 馬鹿外人 probably shouldn't even be considered grammatically incorrect. The 馬鹿 + NP (without intervening な) construction is not uncommon or new. 馬鹿面, 馬鹿話, 馬鹿踊り...

  7. 馬鹿外人 sounds perfectly okay.
    It's just not PC...

    "外人" is now considered a non-pc word, also. You may want to use 外国人 instead unless you have an intention to insult foreigners.

    I prefer to use katakana in this case.
    And also, I would use アホ since I was born and raised up in Osaka where ppl
    speak a strong dialect. While アホ is
    too strong to use in Tokyo, バカ is too strong to use in Osaka.

  8. Actually, 馬鹿外人("stupid foreigner") would be much more appropriate for a T-shirt than バカ(馬鹿)な外人 ("A foreigner who is stupid"...kinda clumsy, don't you think?)

  9. And the kanji would be more appropriate because there's less chance that the foreigners will be able to read it (and think it looks cool). Is there a picture of the Paul Frank shirt saying "I'm a stupid American" in Japanese on this site?