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An Excess of Nuance: The Meaning of Yoyu in Japanese

An Excess of Nuance: The Meaning of Yoyu in Japanese

We’re gonna be diving into a challenging topic in this article, but I feel pretty confident that by the time we’re done you’ll all be masters of the Japanese word “yoyuu.” Why is it so challenging?

Well, unlike a lot of words, there’s no direct translation available, and even explaining the nuances takes more than a simple definition. Don’t worry, we’re going to break it all down for you.

Let’s start with a bird’s eye overview.

 

What is the meaning of yoyuu (yoyu)?

Yoyuu (also romanized as yoyu or yoyū) is the pronunciation of the Japanese word 余裕 which has two meanings. The first is that something is done with ease. The second meaning carries the sense of “spare…”, “extra…”, or “leeway.” It’s possible to confuse this with youyuu (溶融, 熔融), which means “melting.”

 

The English definition of yoyuu

When we go searching in the Japanese-English dictionaries, we find some slightly less than helpful definitions.

The popular online dictionary Jisho offers us a whole slew of words across two definitions to sum up yoyuu. “Surplus; margin; leeway; room; space; time; allowance; flexibility; scope,” as well as, “composure; placidity; complacency; calm.”

Weblio is not much more help when it tells us yoyuu means “allowances; additional coverage.” It elaborates, saying that it can mean, “time (to spare), room, a margin, or composure.”

 

The Japanese definition of yoyuu

It isn’t until we peek inside a Japanese dictionary that we find something more helpful. Here we find:

1) あせらずゆったりとしていること。
2) 余りのあること。ありあまること。

Let’s break this down, piece by piece. In the first definition we find in the second half としていること (to-shiteiru-koto) which means, roughly, “When something is done.” In the first half it says あせらずゆったり (aserazuyuttari). That’s made up of the verb あせる, which means “to be flustered,” and ゆったり, which means “comfortable, easy, relaxed.” あせる is in the zu-form あせらず which conjugates the verb to mean “without doing.”

So, putting it all together we get: “When something is done easily and without getting flustered.”

Okay, that makes perfect sense! Much clearer than the English definitions.

Let’s take a look at the second definition, which is broken up into two sentences. The first is made up of 余り (amari; “remainder, surplus”), (no; a paticle that connects two things together), and あること (no-aru-koto; “being, is”).

So, “There is an excess.” The second part is basically the same thing, stated a different way. ありあまる (ariamaru; “to be superfluous, in excess”) and こと (koto; a suffix that turns a verb into a noun). So, again, “An excess.”

So, we now have a more coherent understanding of the word. However, without digging a little deeper you’ll have no idea how to use it.

Before we do that, let’s take a quick look at the composition of yoyuu itself, as written in Japanese.

 

Prying open the writing of 余裕

Thanks to the crazy Japanese writing system, yoyuu can be written tons of different ways. If you want something easily pronounceable by people used to the Latin alphabet, you can write yoyuu, yoyu, or yoyū.

To write it phonetically in Japanese, you’d use hiragana and write it as よゆう (yo-yu-u).

To write it the normal way, we’d use kanji and write it as 余裕. That first kanji might look familiar if you’ve checked out my article on watashi and other personal pronouns. In that article we learned that could be a way of saying “I”, but only for the greatest samurai, kings, and intellectuals—and even then, usually only in literature.

However, when used in the word 余裕, takes on a different meaning. It is “too much; excess; remainder.”

The second kanji is and means “abundant, rich, fertile.”

So, from those two being put together you get a sense of “abundant excess.”

 

Combinations of yoyuu

The first step to seeing how this word is used is seeing it in some common combinations.

余裕綽々 (yoyuu-shakushaku) is a yojijukugo (4-kanji expression) that means “cool and collected.” This one adds the kanji , which means “loose; lenient,” and it does it twice, giving a sense of an excess of looseness. Someone who is 余裕綽々 has their composure about them.

This next expression is specific to the game Othello, but I’m using it to help showcase the feeling of the word. 余裕手 (yoyuu-shu) means to have a free move in the game. That last character is the kanji for hand. So, you can think of this as having an excess move—i.e. a free move.

The next is 余裕を噛ます (yoyuu-o-kamasu). 噛ます means to wedge something forcefully into a space. So, this expression means that you’re “feigning composure” or “acting like you have (time, money, strength, etc) to spare.” You’re “forcing a sense of excess and composure.”

Lastly, let’s look at 余裕を与える (yoyuu-wo-ataeru). 与える means to give something in the sense of “providing something.” So, you’re providing someone with excess. This expression ultimately means, “to give someone space,” or “to cut someone some slack.”

 

An excess of examples

Let’s look at some example sentences!

余裕あるぜ!
yoyuu aru ze!
Piece of cake!

5分の余裕がある。
gofun-no-yoyuu
There’s a 5 minute margin.

だいぶ余裕がある。
daibu-yoyuu ga aru.
There’s a lot of room.

君は金の余裕が有る。
kimi wa kane-no-yoyuu ga aru.
You’ve got money to spare.

旅行は私には余裕のない贅沢である
ryokou ha watashi niwa yoyuu-no-nai zeitaku de aru.
Travelling is a luxury I can’t afford.

車にうちの子供を乗せてもらう余裕がありますか。
kuruma ni uchi-no-kodomo o nosete-morau yoyuu ga arimasu ka?
Do you have room for my child in your car?

他の人たちのことを考える余裕はなかった。
hoka-no-hitotachi-no-koto o kangaeru yoyuu wa nakatta.
I couldn’t afford to worry about others.

彼は入学試験の前日でも余裕綽々としていた。
kare wa nyuugakushiken demo yoyuu-shakushaku to shiteita.
He was calm and collected even though it was the day before the entrance exams.

 

The other yoyu

Since lengthened vowels are difficult for non-native speakers to hear clearly (and sometimes even for native speakers), you could possibly confuse 余裕 with 溶融. The former is pronounced yoyuu, with a long “u” sound at the end. The latter is pronounced youyuu, where both the first and second vowels are lengthened.

In that case, the word you’re looking at is written either as 溶融 or 熔融 or (unlikely) ようゆう. This word means melting, or fusion. All three of these kanji mean some form of “melt” or “fusion,” so the double character word just sort of emphasizes and clarifies it.

These show up in some rather technical words, so it’ll be pretty obvious when you’re hearing youyuu (instead of yoyuu) just from context. Here’s a sample:

溶融型熱転写プリンタ
youyuu-gatanetsu-tensha purinta
phase change printer

溶融石英
youyuu-seki-ei
fused quartz

溶融塩原子炉
youyuu-en-genshiro
molten salt reactor

溶融塩電池
youyuu-en-denchi
molten salt battery

溶融亜鉛めっき
youyuu-aen-mekki
hot-dip galvanizing

 

No more to spare here

Well, that’s everything there is to know about yoyuu. If you’ve read and internalized the lessons in this article, then you’ll be 余裕 the next time you come up against this tricky word!

 

Related Questions

 

What is the meaning of daisuki in Japanese?

Daisuki is written 大好き and means “love.”

 

Is baka a bad word in Japanese?

About as bad as calling someone “idiot” in English.

 

Do Japanese people say aishiteru?

Yes, they do. Maybe not with the looseness and frequency that we say “I love you” in most English speaking areas, but it is something they say.

 

What is muchu?

Muchuu is the more accurate pronunciation, with an elongated “u” sound. It’s written 夢中 and means “obsession” or “being absorbed in.”
 

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