In this post I’d like to go over the expression “とんだとばっちりを食う” (tonda tobacchiri wo kuu) which can be a little tricky to understand. Before talking about the overall meaning I want to look at each of the components.
With the exception of children’s books, written Japanese generally does not have spaces between the words. Having said that, most of the time it is easy to pick apart the words. This expression is one case when it is a little ambiguous, since you might recognize the word “ばっちり” (which means something like “perfect” or “sufficient”) and start to analyze down that path, leading you to interpret the と as a particle. But eventually you will realize the grammar doesn’t make sense with that interpretation.
It turns out the first two words in this expression are actually とんだ and とばっちり.
The word とんだ (tonda) is generally used to signify something extreme, often with a negative connotation. It is generally written using hiragana, though I have sometimes seen it written as 飛んだ, indicating that it originally came from the verb 飛ぶ (tobu). In addition to the common meaning of “to fly”, 飛ぶ actually has a bunch of other meanings, but the one that perhaps fits the most is 常識から離れてる, which literally means “separated from common sense” and can be more easily understood as “senseless”. But regardless of the origin of the word とんだ, you can effectively treat it as an adjective.
The next word is とばっちり (tobacchiri) which is another form of the word とばしり (tobashiri) that means getting involved in something that isn’t directly your responsibility or fault. Another word for this is 巻き添え (makizoe). By the way, another meaning of tobacchiri/tobashiri is “splash of water”, and while that meaning doesn’t directly apply you can imagine how the meaning of “involvement” evolved from the idea of someone being splashed with water.
Finally, the word 食う (kuu) has the base meaning of “to eat”, though it is generally considered overly casual / rough and I would recommending using the more common 食べる (taberu) in most situations. Besides the base meaning “to eat”, 食う is also frequently used to express being put in a bad situation.
In fact, the above-mentioned 巻き添え (makizoe) is often used with 食う to indicate getting (undeservingly) involved in some bad situation, and this is the very same meaning as the phrase in question. The とんだ word just emphasizes that it is a very bad situation.
- Because of that asshole I was really put through the wringer.
I’d like to thank the reader that gave me inspiration for this article. If you have any suggestions for words, expressions, or grammar you would like me to explain, please feel free to let me know in the comments.