Friday, July 8, 2005

Talk Nerdy To Me

From Reader Malinda:

"Tian, long time reader first time emailer. I bought this shirt on - now I'm nervous... Does it really say 'Talk Nerdy to me?'"

Other than is missing a dot on top (thanks to anon.), I forwarded her question to my associates and here is what they had to say about the shirt.

Aaron replied with:

"Well, it's not WRONG, as in poor Japanese, but it's not really 'Talk Nerdy to Me' either. It says 'Konpyuuta gengo de hanasou ze.' This translates roughly to 'Let's speak in the language of computers!' The dirty/nerdy wordplay is, of course, obliterated once you get into Japanese.

Also, nerds are, of course, not just computer people, and not all computer people are nerds. I usually translate "nerd" as "otaku," although that conjures up more of an anime/manga freak than a computer/DnD freak... It's basically not the sort of thing that translates very well.

That being said, having taught Japanese and having just met up with some of my former students in Tokyo the other night, just having the shirt in Japanese might be sufficiently nerdy to impart the intended meaning."

Ken replied with:

"Not a bad translation although I wouldn't say it's a natural Japanese sentence. Grammatically, there's no problems.

I'd re-translate this Japanese into English as: Shall we talk in the computer language?

1. Real nerds wouldn't say "the computer language".

2. The letter at the very end which reads "ze" is written in katakana instead of hiragana. This is like, wRi71ng 3nGlisH LIk3 THis. Well, not this much, but basically it's a word play. In any case, using a katakana letter at the end is way out of fasion.

Having said all the above, I like this T-shirt. It's funny enough to make me laugh. Come to think of it, it's so much better to have an awkward sentence on a T-shirt than to have a perfect sentence. It draws more attention. That's what a phrase on a T-shirt is supposed to do."

Now you know, and knowing is:



or "Knowing is half the battle".


  1. Tian, I think you need more knowledgeable associates.

    1. 言 is missing a stroke. This is the first thing I noticed.
    2. コンピュータ言語 is a commonly used phrase that means "programming language." To the degree that you could understand "computer language" to mean "programming language," yeah, I guess you could say it means "computer language," but that's not a good translation.
    3. Re ゼ: Using Katakana for emphasis on words that are usually written in Hiragana is relatively common and is not at all like l33t sP33k.

  2. Anon,

    Thanks for the commment. Would you please email me with your contact info so in the future I can recruit you as my nerdy associate.

  3. The thing at the bottom of the post reminds me of some kids at my college who painted over the room number on their dorm door and repainted it in ones and zeroes.

  4. I think you could make a certain case that it looks odd. Granted, even a quick Google search of だゼ brings up many hits, I have personally never seen a kanji/hiragana phrase followed by ゼ or ヨ or ゾ anywhere in public written, nor have I seen it in manga. Granted, sentences ending with ゾ and ゼ would not be written out in public most of the time anyways.

    In the vein of "geekiness", ending a sentence with ゼ like that is nowhere in the same ballpark. I'd think of it more as added oomph at the end of a sentence, like Singaporeans say, "Bye la!"

    Your associate makes reference to using 'otaku' as meaning 'nerd'. I think of nerds more as hard studiers who do well in school, while geeks are more the D&Ders, Star Wars freaks, Trekkies and anime freaks. With this idea, I prefer to translate nerd as がり勉 (gariben), which is somewhat alluding to 'drudgery' or 'grinding work'. It is used slangily to refer to people who study hard, like bookworms (which is 本食い虫 or 本の虫, incidentally). I then translate 'geek' as 'otaku', because 'otaku' carries a connotation of someone who gets waaaay too involved in a hobby (like D&Ders, Trekkies, etc).

    This having been said, I would translate (for a girl's shirt anyways, assuming it's referring to speaking about nerdy topics in a deep way) "Talk nerdy to me" as "オタクっぽくしゃべってほしい" or "オタクのようにしゃべってほしい", respectively "otakuppoku shabette hoshii" and "otaku no you ni shabette hoshii", meaning the same thing. However, I must admit that I don't know if "otakuppoku" is a valid word, as the "ppoku" is kind of like "ish" in English -- you can't affix it to all nouns to make them adjectives. "No you ni" literally means "in the manner of".

    OK, I've rambled long enough. I enjoyed this post, and anonymous's comments as well.

  5. I forgot to mention that both of my phrases I created mean "I want you to speak nerdy [with me]" which I think sounds better than "otakuppoku shabette ne" (too Magical Girl-esque for me) or "otakuppoku shaberou" (too masculine). I translated it in a girly way since the person who wrote in was a girl.

  6. If I were to make such a shirt I'd make it 秋葉弁しゃべってね♡

  7. While using the katakana 'ze' has gone a bit out of style, it still is a relatively common way of adding a bit of emphasis to a phrase when written.

    I think Kyle Goetz must read a better quality of manga then i do, because I see the ゼ/ヨ/ソ pretty often.

    I do like the translation ガリ勉. Perhaps ガリ勉語?

  8. Oh, and Tian, what happened to the other article you put up recently - a woman's tattooed back that said something like Truth, Love, Power and something else? You had it up last week, but it has disappeared.

  9. kyle goetz: how will the translation need to be changed if it's not for a girl's shirt? Just curious.

    -- bi

  10. 秋葉弁しゃべってね♡ is sooo nice. You see, I can tell that this sentence is very very highly likely composed by a native speaker. So, this would lose some funny effect that the original one has.

    Regarding the katakana use at the end of a sentence, I would say, Googling some phrases doesn't tell you whether it's commonly used among certain people. Like I said, it's WAY out of fasion. Unless it's intentional, using such an old word play makes others think you are dumb. There are old/dumb people. That's why you still see that usage on the web. It's invented more than a couple of decades ago. そうだネ、そうだヨ、ださいョ. No way... 頼むゼ...


  11. Just to give you an idea.

    "After a while, crocodile"

    Doesn't this sound old?
    My English is not good enough.
    Google tells me it's still in use, though.

  12. The shirt that you've got posted there is intended to be only passably grammatical.
    You can check it out here:
    I particularly like this line in their description: "To give it that extra edge, the japanese text is a loose translation."

  13. I don't find anything odd about the use of katakana to write the final particle 'ze.' It's not standard modern usage, but I'm sure I've at least seen it in contemporary manga or fiction, where people tend to play around more with writing.

    I do think however that saying "オタクっぽくしゃべってほしい" would not have the desired effect. Telling someone to 'speak like an otaku' implies (at least to me) not speaking about nerdy topics but speaking in a socially incompetent fashion, which is hardly what the shirt is meant to say.

    It says quite literally 'Let's talk in computer language,' and the sentence final 'ze' particle adds a bit of zing to it. While it isn't exactly a direct translation of the English phrase, I think it pretty much says what they wanted it to.

  14. "Talk nerdy to me" simply means "Talk dirty to me". If someone translates it as "talk computer language to me" they just missed the point which is kind of ironic because only a true nerd would be clueless to the sexual innuendo. Nobody got it right, you all get an F. And yes, the t-shirt is meant for girls only, not straight boys. For those who want to see the t-shirt that started it all, you can see it here, I made it: