Useful Japanese slang word: 微妙 (bimyou)

By | December 29, 2014

Japanese is filled with many slang terms and there are entire dictionaries documenting these, so if you search you can quickly fill up on hundreds of slang words. So I typically don’t focus an entire post on a slang term unless I hear/use it frequently enough to warrant such a treatment. The word 微妙 is one such word.

Though I very rarely see this word used in Japanese novels or TV dramas, I find it extremely useful in daily life. Furthermore, it doesn’t really have a simple direct translation into English which makes it just neat to learn and fun to use.

The word originally means “delicate, subtle, or fine”, and it is still used to mean this dictionary definition as in the following sentence.

  • この車の色は微妙に違う。
  • This car’s color is subtly different.

Here the word is used together with “に” as an adverb, and indicates there is only a small difference.

But the main reason I am writing about this word is for it’s slang definition. As I said above it’s a little difficult to translate directly, but I find the English word “mediocre” to be an OK fit. For this usage it acts like an Na-adjective.

  • きょう見た映画は微妙だった
  • The movie (I) saw today was mediocre.
  • 微妙な味の飲み物
  • A drink whose taste wasn’t so great.
  • 微妙なプレゼントをもらってがっかりした
  • I was disappointed to get a present that was only so-so.

Based on my experience hearing about this word as well as asking about it specifically to natives, it can be used when you don’t love something but don’t hate it either. It’s a way to express mild dissatisfaction about something without being too overt about it.  You can try using this word even when you really don’t like something but don’t want to risk being impolite.

This word is not only slang but based on my experience used much more often with younger people, though that may be changing since this usage has been around for some time now.

If you wan’t to take a more neutral stance about something without really making a statement, you can just say “普通”.


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