November 09, 2005

As long as my eyes are black


Here in the English-speaking Occident (the very occidental state of Utah), even what is considered pretty much an unoffendable ethnic/racial identity (Anglo-Saxon) is not phenotypically generic enough to yield aphorisms or expressions that weren't originally coined with a fundamentally derogatory or self-deprecating intent in mind.

There are, to be sure, a wide range of fairly innocuous "observations." I don't mind saying that white men can't jump because I can't. Jeff Foxworthy has made a career out insulting his own particular ethnic tribe. And while I'm sure that the more fair-headed among us do take umbrage at "dumb blonde" jokes, I'm also sure that they equally enjoy telling them.

The "dumb blonde" joke doesn't resonate the same way in Japan, where, as Rebecca McGregor points out, what we would call "brunette" is generally classified as "blonde." Granted, we do the same thing with skin color, assigning the pseudo-racial phenotype "white" equally to a pasty, burn-don't-tan guy like me and to the bronzed George Hamilton.

Contrariwise, what most Japanese describe as "black" when it comes to eye color includes a number of umber-ish qualities that describe pretty much the entire population. Thus a phenotype that is generic enough to yield aphorisms or expressions that weren't in fact originally coined with a fundamentally derogatory or self-deprecating intent in mind.

Hence the following:
目の黒いうちに (me no kuroi uchi ni)
lit. "as long as (uchi ni) my eyes (me) are black (kuroi)" = "in my lifetime"

私の目の黒いうちは絶対にそんなことはさせない (watashi no me no kuroi uchi wa zettai ni sonna koto wa sasenai)
lit. "As long as my eyes are black, you'll never get me to do something like that." = "Not over my dead body."

Completely neutral in usage and tone. Does the English language really offer nothing comparable? At least I can't come up with any examples off the top of my head.

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