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Yatta vs Yokatta: What do they mean?

Yatta and yokatta: What's the difference?
Yatta and yokatta: What’s the difference?

Two words you often hear in anime are Yatta! and Yokatta. They both express positive feelings, but the words are in fact unrelated and have different meanings.

Yatta is the past tense of the word yaru, to do. So when you hear someone shout Yatta! its primary meaning is “We did it!” or “I did it!”

So whether you hit the jackpot on a fruit machine or your team defeats the universe-eating monster, you are entitled to shout Yatta!

However, the meaning has extended from the literal sense of the word. For example, when I was in Japan and my host mother announced that she was making hotcakes, my little host sisters shouted Yatta!

In this case it wasn’t because they had done anything or even because their mother had (the hotcakes weren’t made yet) but because the word can extend beyond its literal meaning to a general cry of triumph or delight.

Yokatta is the past tense of ii, which means good. Ii is one of the very few irregular words in Japanese. The older form of ii is yoi (which is still often used), and the only irregularity is that whenever ii is conjugated in any way it reverts to being yoi. So the past tense of ii isn’t ikatta but yokatta.

So the meaning of yokatta is clear enough. It means “it was good”. Like yatta, it is often used for things that we don’t necessarily consider to be “past” in English. But when you think about it, the Japanese is logical. Something has to have already happened before we can know whether it was good or not.

Yokatta can be used in many different situations to express relief or happiness at the way things have turned out.

A very common expression in anime is

無事でよかった
buji de yokatta

Buji means literally “without incident” but usually has the sense of having arrived somewhere or done something safely or unhurt.

So buji de yokatta means “it was good that you are unhurt”. That puts the past tense in a slightly different place from where English would put it but the sense is the same as “I’m glad you weren’t hurt”.

Yokatta can express happiness in getting a present, passing an exam, or just about anything, but always the root sense is the same: “The way things turned out is good”.

As you have probably already realized, the reason the words look somewhat similar is that they both use the plain past ending -atta.

So, to put it all in a nutshell, when you hand your perfect test result to your mother, you say Yatta! and she says Yokatta.


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Yurusanai! What it really means.

yurusanai-meaningYurusanai or yurusenai is often used in manga and anime. Often said with a similarly angry tone, it can be confused with urusai, but it is a completely different word with a very different meaning.

Yurusanai is often translated as “I won’t forgive you”. This is a reasonable translation in some cases, but often falls rather short of the full meaning.

The term is often heard when a hero makes a stand against a villain who is doing something unforgivable. However, the sense of the phrase in this case is often closer to:

I won’t let you do this.

The reason for the difficulty is that word 許す yurusu means both “to forgive” and “to allow” and also has an implication of “to give up”. So that shouted yurusanai (the negative form of yurusu) means at once “I won’t forgive you” and “I won’t let you do this” with overtones of “I won’t give up”.

This makes it a very powerful expression in these circumstances, and one that has no brief and direct English translation.

Note: this word is sometimes confused with Urusai, which also tends to be angry but is quite different.

When a word combines several meanings, those meanings are often closely entwined in the mind of the speaker. You may have noticed that Germans speaking English sometimes say “happy” when they mean “lucky”. That is because the German word Gluck means both happiness and luck, so that the two concepts are more closely bound up in the German mind than in the English.

The same is true of the concepts of allowing and forgiving in the word yurusanai. The resulting mixture gives a powerful expression in the negative, which is why it is so often used.

Sometimes you will hear yurusenai in place of yurusanai. The only difference here is that yurusenai means “I can’t allow/forgive” rather than “I won’t”.

Because it tends to be spoken in anger, the word is usually used in the plain form. However, there are occasions when it is used in the polite form, sometimes to great effect.

Cure Beauty’s first appearance in Smile Precure is prefaced by her ojousama civilian persona facing down an evil witch who has downed all the current Precures.

Immediately before her debut transformation, she makes a defiant but dignified speech ending with the words:

わたくし、青木らいかが ゆるしません。
watakushi, Aoki Reika ga yurushimasen.
I, Reika Aoki, will not forgive you/allow this.

This unusual (for anime) use of yurushimasen, the polite negative of yurusu, gives a powerful and dignified effect.

Cure Beauty YurushimasenNot to be confused with: Urusai!

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Urusai: What does it really mean?

meaning-of-urusaiUrusai is a word you encounter a lot in anime and manga.

The most usual translation is “Shut up!” and if it is said (or shouted) on its own, it is pretty much the exact cultural equivalent of “Shut up!” However, the meaning is not identical.

The actual meaning of the word is usually given as “noisy” and that is very much the sense of the term, especially if we remember that “noise” is essentially unwanted sound.

We can describe noisy traffic as urusai; we can also describe a person who is too fussy as urusai. For example, we can even say that someone is “urusai about her clothes” – fussy about them. Again, the sense is that she makes too much “noise” over them.

So when urusai is used in the “shut up” sense, someone is essentially saying “Your words are unwanted sound”, thus “I don’t want to hear this”. Unlike “shut up”, urusai is not directly an order to stop talking, but a statement of one’s feelings about the talking.

Perhaps the second most common usage in anime (after the shouted “urusai!) is “urusai na”. The “na” in this case is a marker for a feeling expressed to oneself (though it may be “expressed to oneself” for someone else to hear). An English equivalent might be “what a noisy person!” – or possibly something less polite along the same lines.

Note: this word is sometimes confused with Yurusanai, which also tends to be angry but is quite different.

The “feeling of sounds” is more important in Japanese than English, and that “sai” ending gives the feel of an excessive/unpleasant sensation, as in kusai, “smelly”, and extensions like mendokusai, “troublesome” (literally: “stinking of too-much-effort”).

Interestingly, while urusai is always negative, it isn’t necessarily critical. When I was in Japan recently we were in the direct path of a typhoon. We got torrential rain, as well as continual news reports and warnings about the incoming windstorm. For a while the television seemed to talk about nothing else.

However, at the last minute the typhoon changed course and veered northward toward Tokyo. The weather cleared up and went back to early-Fall sunshine and warmth.

My host mother commented:

テレビはうるさかったね。

“The television was urusai, wasn’t it?”

I don’t think she was criticizing the television at all. The typhoon was coming right at us and they would clearly have been failing in their duty if they hadn’t given warnings and news about it.

If the typhoon had hit us, she would certainly not have described the television as urusai. But as it happened it didn’t, and all that commotion turned out to be unwanted/unneeded “noise”.

In English she might have said “Well, that was a big false alarm, wasn’t it?” The use of urusai here represents the “false” (therefore unnecessary) part.

It was an interesting example of the fact that while urusai always means something negative, it doesn’t necessarily imply adverse criticism of the source of the “noise”.

Not to be confused with: Yurusanai!


See also

Oishii: what does it really mean?


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