When learning a foreign language, it’s important to learn a little bit about a lot of things: words, expressions, culture, etc. But it’s also important to learn a lot about a few things, namely those things that occur frequently in daily life. This post, falling in the latter category, is about an expression you are likely to come across: めんどくさい (mendokusai), sometimes written as 面倒臭い.
This expression is a shortening of めんどうくさい (mendoukusai), and is made of two words. The first word, めんどう（面倒) has a variety of nuances but generally can be summarized as trouble or difficulty of some form. But it is also used in the phrase 面倒をみる (mendou wo miru), which literally means “to watch trouble” and is used to express taking care of something, like an animal or a child. This latter meaning is roughly equivalent to the word 世話 (sewa).
The second word, くさい (kusai), literally means “stinky”, but it is often used to refer to “reeking” of something, in the sense of having a hint of some (often negative) thing. For example 胡散臭い (literally “suspicious-smell”) is used to express someone being suspicious or shady. Or I guess we could say “sussy” (:
Putting these two things together, we end up with めんどうくさい meaning “reeking of trouble”, which can be simplified to “troublesome”. However, neither of those is really a good translation of how you express such an idea in English.
To give a specific example, let’s imagine your cell phone’s battery is broken and needs recharging after 1 hour. That would require a lot of time on your part, and would definitely be “mendokusai”. Grammatically, you would say めんどくさい携帯 (mendokusai keitai), since “mendokusai” is treated as an i-adjective.
Here, the cellphone is causing you a lot of “trouble”, and requires your time to “take care” of it. In terms of natural casual English, I would express this as either “annoying” or “irritating.”
By the way, a common slang variant of this expression that sounds particularly rough is めんどくせえ “mendokusee”, and the character Shikamaru in Naruto tends to use this phrase quite often as a defining part of his personality. Another slang variant is めんどい (mendoi), which sounds a little childish to me, and to be honest I haven’t heard it very much.
While technically you can say this expression in polite form as めんどくさいです (mendokusai desu), it is inherently not a nice thing to say. If you want to talk about someone in a less direct way you can use words like 困る (“komaru”, “to trouble”), 難しい (“muzukashii”, “difficult”), or even 大変 (“taihen”). Another option is to call them by a 3rd person pronoun such as あいつ (“aitsu”), which has a bit of a negative nuance. Just don’t use that expression directly with them.
Finally, 厄介 (yakkai) is another word that is pretty similar in meaning and nuance to “mendokusai”. The main difference is that it is used as a na-adjective, so you would use it like 厄介な人 (“yakkai na hito”, “a troublesome person”).