Japanese literary term: おぼしき (oboshiki)

By | February 2, 2021

This time I’d like to talk about the word おぼしき (oboshiki), which sometimes written in kanji as 思しき. This word’s meaning is fairly straightforward, but I think its origin (as well as nuance) makes it worth a dedicated post.

First let’s look at a simple example sentence:

  • 部屋には親とおぼしき男が一人いました。 (heya ni wa oya to oboshiki otoko ga hitori imashita)

Before we talk about the meaning of this word, let’s see where it comes from.

First of all, the き at the end of the word is a remnant of classical Japanese that makes the word sound literary, but doesn’t have any significant change in meaning from an い-ending adjective. For example, 美しき (utsukushiki) would mean the same thing as 美しい (utsukishii), and would be used the same grammatically. So おぼしき means the same thing as おぼしい.

おぼしい comes from おもほし, which is a form of おもほす (思ほす), which in turn is a polite form of the classical verb おもふ (思ふ). This verb is basically equivalent to the modern おもう (思う), and as you probably know means “to think” or “to feel”.

The good news is you don’t have to memorize that derivation, or even understand to any extent. But it does tell us that おぼしい basically means “to think” or “to feel”, although in modern Japanese it is used primarily in the form “A とおもしき B” or “A とおもしい B”, where it is has the nuance of “B that seems like (an) A”. Here is one way to translate our earlier example sentence:

  • 部屋には親とおぼしき男が一人いました。 (heya ni wa oya to oboshiki otoko ga hitori imashita)
  • In the room was one man who looked like a parent.

In case you are curious, the と (to) particle is used here for the same reason it is used in sentences like “僕はいいと思う” (boku wa ii to omou), which is that it is quoting something that is being felt or thought.

I wanted to emphasize that this word (at least to me) has a fairly strong literary nuance, in fact I am not sure if I have ever heard it spoken. The last time I read it was in a modern novel that had a noticeable literary feel to it. Another word with a similar nuance is である (dearu) , which when used at the end of a sentence has a certain literary nuance to it.

If you are not sure when it’s safe to use おぼしき, there are a bunch of alternatives that are more broadly applicable. For example:

  • 親と思われる男 (oya to omowareru otoko)
  • 親のように見える男 (oya no you ni mieru otoko)
  • 親らしい男 (oya rashii otoko)
  • 親みたいな男 (oya mitai otoko)
  • 親っぽい男 (oya ppoi otoko)

Each of these has its own nuance, but they all roughly mean the same general thing. I’ve listed them in order of decreasing literary tone, for example っぽい (which I wrote about here) has a pretty strong casual tone.

If you want to read more about Japanese literary expressions, check out this post.

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