まし (mashi) in Japanese – a way to express the best of two evils

By | March 10, 2014

I recently got a request from someone asking for usage and example sentences of the Japanese expression まし, so I thought I would write a brief post on that topic.

まし is used when you want to express something is not great in an absolute sense, but relatively better when compared to something else. You can think of it as “the best of two evils”. Sometimes it is written in katakana as マシ。

To give a simple example, let’s say you buy two desserts at a restaurant, a cookie and a brownie. Both of them taste sort of weird, but the cookie is the better of the two. In that case you could say.

  • どっちも変な味がするんだけど、クッキーの方がまし
  • Both of them have a strange taste, but the cookie is the better tasting one.

I found a post in Japanese which has a few more good sample sentences from native speakers.  I’ll excerpt the original phrase plus the explanation in Japanese, and then discuss in English including my own comments.

  • 「死んだほうがマシ」=「生きているよりかは、死んだ方が良い」

“I’m better off dead” => This means its better to be dead than living a terrible/painful life. Of course nobody wants to die, but its relatively better than the alternative.

  • 「世界で一番マシな国はどこか」=「世界の中で(どの国も良くないが)もし選ぶとするなら、どこの国か」

This sentence means that none of the countries in the world are really great, but which is the relative best of them is if you had to pick one to live in.

  • 「あなたがいちばんマシだっだ」=「世界の人間全部良くなかったが、あなたと世界の人間を比べたら、まだあなたの方が良かった」

This expression means that nobody in the world is really that good, but of everyone ‘you’ are the best of the worst.

A related expression is ”どっちかというと”, which is used when you have to pick between two things. Going back to the brownie and cookie example used above,

  • どっちかというと、クッキーの方がいいかも。
  • If I had to pick one, I’d say the cookie is probably better.

どっち is an abbreviation for どちら (“which” when comparing between only two things) here.

References

http://detail.chiebukuro.yahoo.co.jp/qa/question_detail/q1125767631

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