One of the interesting features of the Japanese language is the abundance of honorific usage of words and sentences. Japanese people are fond of using honorific forms in their conversations, whether it is a casual greeting or an official talk with a customer. A “gaijin” (foreigner) who tries to learn Japanese by conversations, finds it interesting to note that the alphabet ‘O’ (お) is used as the honorific prefix most of the times. ‘O’ (お or 御) is used as a prefix to “kunyomi” (Japanese reading) words so commonly that a beginner gets confused between the O-prefixed words and the natural “kunyomi” (訓読み) words starting with letter ‘O’. Sometimes, the potency of honoring the word is so strong that the O-factor throws out funny usage of prefixes!
O in Conversations
It is most common to start a Japanese conversation with “Ohayou gozaimasu” (Good morning) and the famous “Ogenki desuka?” (How are you?). As one can notice, even during such casual greetings, the O-factor has a role to play. Yes! They are “O-hayou” and “O-genki” when you split those greeting words. And even after learning Japanese for a good period, it is difficult for a student to recognize this O-factor easily. Any foreigner would appreciate the honorific prefixes when they are used in sentences like “onegaishimasu” (I request you). Rather, it is so obvious that nobody recognizes “onegai” (request) as “O-negai” (the holy – request!!) consciously. No doubt that the O-factor makes the language really polite; but its abundance makes a beginner face different situations, which may be funny sometimes. A “gaijin” student trying to learn Japanese was found enquiring his Japanese classmate about the honorific ‘O’ used with “mizu” (水- water). It was not clear to him why such a great honor must be conferred on a commonest material like water. He was struggling to make out the contexts in which “mizu” (water) must be used as “O-mizu” (Holy-water!?). Indeed, many beginners wonder how “suidou no mizu” (tap water) becomes “O-mizu” (holy water!!) when transferred to a glass!
Some more Japanese O-humor
In fact, a lot of funny things gush into the mind when one starts separating the O-factor from the commonly used words. For instance, an alien who visits a Japanese clinic waits at the reception until the “o-nesan” (revered – sister) sends him to the “o-isha” (revered – doctor), and the basic knowledge of O-factor imparted on him is enough to understand the dialogues. Also he can try to understand “o-kusuri” (holy – medicine!) administered for his own “o-naka” (sacred – stomach!) ailments. But when the revered – sister at the reception asks him to collect some “o-shikko” (holy – urine) for routine clinical tests, he would definitely burst into a big laughter trying to make out the potency of the politeness conferred with the O-factor! Once this mischievous idea of recognizing the O-factor separately as a sacred prefix enters the mind, any student who wants to learn Japanese would look for more and more of it because it makes the study more humorous!