Japanese terminology
August 17, 2006 1:52 AM   Subscribe

Looking for a specific Japanese term which refers to the intangible desirability of certain objects, something that very loosely translates as "the X-factor".
posted by johnny novak to Media & Arts (22 answers total)
i don't know the specific term, but maybe you could say "tokubestu na nanika" - special something.
posted by dydecker at 2:23 AM on August 17, 2006

"fushigi na miryoku"
posted by Gordion Knott at 4:03 AM on August 17, 2006

bakuzen toshita miryoku.
miryokuteki na youso.
miryou suru nanika.
hikitsukeru youso.

This one's hard.
posted by misozaki at 4:53 AM on August 17, 2006

To clarify, I read an article which went something along the lines of;

"What is it that makes us love iPods so much when compared to other mp3 players, or certain types of mobile phones over others. The Japanese have a word for this, it is...."
posted by johnny novak at 5:38 AM on August 17, 2006

The Japanese aesthetic term that comes up often in inappropriate contexts is "wabi sabi," and it's not at all the right term but it's a possibility.
posted by Jeanne at 6:30 AM on August 17, 2006

Your explanation clarifies the context, but it still doesn't make your question any easier to pin down. : )

"mukei no kachi" (intangible value) as opposed to "yuukei no kachi" (tangible value), maybe?

I'm stumped. Sorry.

On preview, Jeanne might have gotten it.
posted by misozaki at 6:36 AM on August 17, 2006

I thought of Ma when I read this question, but it doesn't sound quite right.
posted by cogat at 7:32 AM on August 17, 2006

If the article really used "wabi sabi" it's a howlingly bad misuse of the words. "Wabi" means "rustic and simple" "sabi" means "patinated."

The first thing that came to mind for "x-factor" is "plus-alpha" (which may not look like Japanese, but it is, and can be written in a variety of ways, including +α).
posted by adamrice at 7:34 AM on August 17, 2006

Adamrice: I thought "plus alpha" too, but that wouldn't be so much an intangible x-factor, as much as something above and beyond the norm/expected.

I'm a little suspicious if there is really a word for that x-factor, or if an expression with some other meaning was used and it was just explained wrong in the article.
posted by Bugbread at 7:40 AM on August 17, 2006

Adamrice, it may not be appropriate for the article, but wabi sabi has a different meaning. I remember one of my japanese teachers trying to explain it, with a little difficulty, but it's pretty well summed up in the wikipedia entry on it. Wabi-sabi as an idea is more (and different) than the sum of it's vocabulary parts.
posted by GreenTentacle at 8:14 AM on August 17, 2006

Yeah, I know. And I also know that "wabi-sabi" as a phrase is an almost laughable cliché in Japanese, mostly trotted out for the benefit of foreigners. Regardless, it's a poor descriptor of an iPod.
posted by adamrice at 8:49 AM on August 17, 2006

My money goes to "the original article writer didn't know what he was talking about." The Americans have a perfectly good term for it too: "Brand loyalty."
posted by DoctorFedora at 11:17 AM on August 17, 2006

Maybe instead of Japanese, he meant French, as in "je ne sais quoi"?
posted by blind.wombat at 11:33 AM on August 17, 2006

I too suspect it's "wabi sabi", although, as has been pointed out, it sounds as if it's been misused.

On the other hand, if it's a matter of brand loyalty, something like "giri" might work.
posted by jal0021 at 11:43 AM on August 17, 2006

in 'Man in the High Castle' Philip K. Dick uses 'wu' that way, referring to the 'is-ness' of an object. IIRC a Japanese collector uses it regarding an antique pistol. I vaguely remember him using it about clay pots, too, possibly in 'Galactic Pot Healer'?
posted by aquanaut at 2:07 PM on August 17, 2006 [1 favorite]

"wu" is phonetically impossible in Japanese, so I'm pretty sure that's not it.
posted by adamrice at 2:56 PM on August 17, 2006

jal0021 : "On the other hand, if it's a matter of brand loyalty, something like 'giri' might work."

The problem there is that "brand loyalty" means...er..."brand loyalty", while "giri" just means "obligation". It would be somewhat weird (though not unheard of) for someone writing in English to skip the accurate English word and instead intentionally use a far less accurate Japanese word.

As for "wu", I haven't been able to figure out what word Dick was going after. The sound "wu" is, as adamrice says, impossible in Japanese.
posted by Bugbread at 10:33 PM on August 17, 2006

Well, "The Japanese have a word for this..." as a rhetorical device tends to miss the mark more often than not. As for "giri", it's a pretty standard concept, so it's likely enough a writer unfamiliar with the Japanese language could stumble upon it when doing research. Or recall it from a past conversation. I've heard my fair share of "The Japanese have a word for this..." comments over the years - even from people who should know better.

As for "wu", perhaps it was "wa"... I can see the "wa" particle being (mis)interpreted to mean "is" or a sense of being. It often serves a "to be" sort of function in sentences. Of course, the concept of "Wa" is something entirely different, but I can see how someone could get the two mixed up. Or, for that matter, I could see how someone could twist "Wa" the concept into something indicating a sense of being - especially with regard to something of special value.
posted by jal0021 at 12:33 AM on August 18, 2006

thanks everyone, it does look like the writer was probably misusing something, though perhaps aquanaut is on to something. Thinking about it, it may well have been a Wired article (the open sentence is very Wired) and I'm sure it wouldn't be the first time a Wired writer misquoted Philip K Dick.
posted by johnny novak at 12:45 AM on August 18, 2006

"Plus alpha" when used in business Japanese tends to refer to events or outcomes outside of the scope of whatever the current focus of a discussion or presentation is. For example we expect to achieve a market share of 6% based on factors x, y and z, "plus alpha". I assume it comes from some standardized curriculum on statistics that every Japanese high school student is supposed to take.

I have often been in meetings and discussions where "plus alpha" is used in a way that is somewhat similar to the original question of 'the X factor'.

But I have never heard it used to describe 'the intangible desirability of certain objects'.

Very often in informal or casual Japanese, someone will say "hoshii naa...." to indicate longing or desire for something, without providing any additional detail as to why. But again I think maybe this misses the point of the original question.
posted by schembs at 12:48 AM on August 18, 2006

Wow, best answer goes to a word that's not even Japanese! This has been interesting. Now I'm curious about what Philip K. Dick actually wrote. Have to go find myself a copy...
posted by misozaki at 4:25 AM on August 18, 2006

Randomfilter: When I heard "wu", I initially thought of Chinese, which has a very famous wu: 無. So Phillip Dick uses "wu" to mean "is-ness", and I instantly associate it with "無", "is-not-ness".
posted by Bugbread at 4:36 AM on August 18, 2006

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