Japanese slang term: ちくる (chikuru)

By | January 22, 2019

I’m always surprised by the diversity of language and how vocabulary words tend to group into what I call “domains”. For example, many terms you read in an economic newspaper are not likely to pop up in everyday conversation, and slang words you hear on the street are not too likely be used in a newscast.

In this article I want to talk about the word “chikuru”, which can be written sometimes in hiragana as ちくる but also in mixed katakana/hiragana as チクる. I recently came across this word in a novel and have never heard it used in conversation before (or anywhere else for that matter).

Chikuru means to report a bad or illegal action to the authorities. The context I saw it used in involved some delinquent teenager complaining to someone else that his wrongful activity had been reported to the school authorities.

It is conjugated like a “u-verb” (also called “group 2 verb”) similar to how the verb ある (aru) is: chikutte, chikutta, chikurimasu, etc. An example of its usage would be:

  • 俺のこと、チクっただろ? (ore no koto, chikutta daro?)
  • You ratted on me, didn’t you?

This is a slang word which you will not likely hear in a polite context. The tone of the example sentence is somewhat rough/informal due to these things:

  • The first person pronoun “ore“, which is often used by someone acting tough or manly
  • The omission of the wo (を) particle, which is replaced by a pause (indicated by a comma)
  • The use of a plain form verb (as opposed to the desu/masu form)
  • The word darou generally has a hash connotation, and here is abbreviated as “daro” for emphasis

Notice in the English translation above I used the verb “ratted” which also has a slang/rough tone to it.

If you wanted to express this concept more formally, you could use the word 通報する (tsuuhou suru), corresponding to the English word “report”. Another verb that has more of a childish nuance is 言い付ける (iitsukeru), corresponding to “tattle”. A third way to say this is 告げ口をする (tsugeguchi wo suru), though have I seen this word more in writing than in spoken language.

Hearing chikuru reminded me of the onomatopoeic phrase ちくちく (chikuchiku) which refers to something prickly like thorns. Out of curiosity I looked up the word origin for チクる and it refers to the “prickly” meaning of chikuri and chikuchiku, plus the fact these words can be used for sarcasm or criticism––things which ‘stimulate’ another person like a thorn could. These meanings seem to have evolved to the “rat on” meaning of chikuru. Perhaps the idea is that reporting someone’s wrongful action is like pricking them with a needle. I think this word’s onomatopoeic origin helps to explain why it is one of the few verbs in Japanese that has no associated kanji (gureru is another)

By the way, the word ちくりと (chikuri to) can be used in an adverb form. For example,

  • 蜂にちくりと刺された (hachi ni chikuri to sasareta)
  • (I) was stung by the bee.

Notice that here ちくりと isn’t directly translated in the English version, but maybe “sharply” would be a close match.

As a final comment, like many Japanese verbs I have seen chikuru‘s pre-masu form (chikuri) be used as a noun, in this case “the act of ratting on someone”.

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