As you may know, there are many pairs of Japanese and English words that seem to have exactly the same meanings, but in fact, have different usages and nuances. The Japanese words ‘神 (kami)’ or ‘神様 (kamisama)’ and its English translation ‘God’ are one of such pairs. This post introduces some Japanese expressions and slang terms that use ‘God’ metaphorically, some of which may sound a little strange or impious to native English speakers.
神様のような存在 (kamisama no youna sonzai)
‘神様のような存在’ is an idiomatic expression that literally means ‘a Godlike being’, and is used when you describe someone whom you respect from the bottom of your heart. For instance, Shohei Otani, a Japanese baseball player who started his career in the United States last year, said during an introductory press conference, ‘ベーブルースは神様のような存在で、少しずつ近づいていきたい’. The direct translation of this comment is ‘(For me) Babe Ruth is a Godlike being, and I hope to get close to him little by little’, but it was actually translated by an English translator as ‘In no way do I think I’m at his (Ruth’s) level’.
(note) Babe Ruth is a legendary baseball player who played about 100 years ago in the US. The Japanese player Shoei Ohtani is often compared to Babe Ruth in that both of them are talented both as a pitcher and hitter. Last year, Ohtani hit 20 home runs and started 10 games as a pitcher for the first time since Babe Ruth had done in 1919.
神がかる (kami gakaru)
A Japanese word ‘神がかる’ literally means ‘resemble God’ or ‘Godlike’, and is used when you describe something or someone extraordinary and unbelievable. Usually, it is used as an adjective in ta-form ‘神がかった’ or te-form ‘神がかっている’. For example, ‘今日の彼のプレーは神がかっていた’ means ‘His play today was ‘Godlike.’, and ‘彼女の神がかった演技に魅了された’ means ‘I was fascinated by her “Godlike” performance’.
神 as a prefix
There are a lot of Japanese words that contain ‘神’ as a prefix, which means ‘top-notch’ or ‘brilliant. They include ‘神アプリ’ meaning ‘top-notch apps’, 神回 (kami kai)’ meaning ‘a brilliant episode (of anime or TV shows)’, ‘神対応 (kami taiou)’ meaning ‘a brilliant response’, just to name a few. The prefix ‘神’ is used very casually and affixed to many kinds of words. In fact, there even exists such a word as ‘神泡 (kami awa)’ meaning ‘top-notch foam’, which has been coined by Japanese beverage giant Suntory Holdings to describe the fine-grained creamy foam of their popular beer product “The Premium Malt’s”.
神 (kami) as a Slang Term
Some young people say ‘神 (kami)’ or ‘マジ神 (maji kami)’ meaning ‘You’re God!’ or ‘You’re so Godlike when they thank their friends who have done something very nice to them, such as giving them amazing gifts or letting them copy their homework. They also use these terms to describe something superlative, as in ‘今日の嵐のライブ、マジ神だった’ meaning ‘Arashi’s concert today was so Godlike’.
~とか神かよ’ (toka kamikayo)
Related to the casual usage of ‘神’ explained above, there is an idiomatic expression ‘とか神かよ’, which is often used by young people in a casual text message or posts on social media. This expression literally means ‘(Isn’t something or someone) God?’, and is used when something fantastic and/or unbelievable has happened. This expression usually comes after a complete sentence or phrase, as shown in the example sentences below:
たった‘500円で飲み放題とか神かよ’ (all-you-can-drink only for 500 yen; is that (service) God?)
‘うちの学園祭に乃木坂46来るとか神かよ’ (Nogizaka 46 will come to our school festival; is that (situation) God?)
‘たった３ヶ月でこの試験受かるとか神かよ’ (You passed this exam in only 3 months; are you God?).
‘神ってる (kamitteru)’ is a relatively new slang term, which derived from the standard word ‘神がかる (kamigakaru)’ explained above. As with ‘神がかる’, it literally means ‘be Godlike’, and is used very casually to describe something or someone awesome and amazing. It took off among young people in 2016, when the term was used by Koichi Ogata, the head coach of a Japanese professional baseball team Hiroshima Toyo Carp, to acclaim the player Seiya Suzuki for his ‘Godlike’ performance: hitting game-winning home runs in two games back-to-back. At the end of that year, Hiroshima Toyo Carp won the Central League championship for the first time in 25 years, and that pushed ‘kamitteru’ to be selected as the word of the year (Ryukougo Taisho).
Note, however, that some people frown upon the use of the word, critisising that its tone is sort of childish and uncool, or the usage of the word ‘God’ is inappropriate. Therefore, in a formal situation, it is better to use a more standard word ‘神がかる’.
The grammar of ‘神っている’
‘神っている’ can be considered as a teiru-form of a stative verb ‘神る’, and means ‘be in the state of having 神る-ed (become Godlike)’.
Like ‘神る’, in fact a myriad of casual words have been created by simply adding ‘る’ after a noun, which includes ‘事故る (jiko-ru)’ meaning ‘cause an accident’ and ‘メモる (memo-ru)’ meaning ‘take a memo’. Those words tend to sound casual, especially when the grammar rule is applied to abbreviated words, such as:
- ‘ググる (gugu-ru)’ meaning ‘google something’ (‘ググ’ is short for ‘Google’)
- ‘タクる (takuru)’ meaning ‘hire a taxi’ (タクis short for ‘taxi’)
- ‘ディスる (dis-ru)’ meaning ‘mock or disrespect others’ (ディス is short for ‘disrespect’).
just to name a few.