You’re using my character!
Until now, the unseemliness of character inconsistency has been touched upon.
For example, perhaps the guy who is now a total “boss” character and uses rough and ready language, can be seen in a video of his first job interview, putting up an innocuous “nice guy” character, nervously introducing himself, and nodding vigorously at whatever the other person says. Both the boss and any people watching this video of him would feel embarrassed by it.
Even so, it shows him at a time when he was still a “nice guy” character. How did he grow up to become that “boss” character?
The answer is in our daily exchanges. In discussing various topics with him, sounding each other out in conversation, casually listening to him talk frankly whenever the opportunity arose, and listening to him explain his vast store of knowledge, we implicitly recognized that “he is higher than us,” and he became a “boss” character. Can we say we have no memory of holding him up and celebrating him? Can we say we never thought, “Let’s just let him be the boss. It’s easier for me to be the nice guy. All I have to do is look impressed and grunt at whatever he says”?
Of course, the characters we create are to some extent shaped by our personalities, but they are also adjusted and determined within these interactions. This is the largest reason for us being unable to maintain consistent characters.
Within a group of anemone fish, the largest fish is the lone female, while the second largest fish is the lone male (the rest are sterile). If the female dies, the male becomes a female, and the largest of the sterile fish becomes the new male. In that our characters are determined while adjusting to others, they somewhat resemble the male and female anemone fish.
Some years ago, I asked total strangers to make small talk with one another in order to collect data on conversations. While watching a video of these conversations, a female graduate student said nonchalantly,
”This woman has taken on the anego character.” The anego character? After seeing just the beginning of the couple’s conversation, she understood which woman had assumed the “anego” role. “That one is the imouto character.”(1)
Surprised, I re-watched the video, but even when listening to the audio and watching the gestures, I couldn’t understand it. I guess it is only clear to someone of the same gender. As much as I’d like to investigate this further, the one thing that is clear to me is that it is no good for two “boss” characters to sit side-by-side, neither adjusting to the other. This is something every high school girl who has cried “Yada, kyara kabutteru jan(2)” (Oh no! You’re using my character!) knows.
(What of our carpet salesman, you say? I’ll write about him next time.)
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(1) The words anego and imouto literally mean “elder sister” and “younger sister” respectively. Apparently, these words also refer to a sort of social relationship in which the anego is the wiser, more experienced woman who advises the younger women (imouto) around her.
(2) In Japanese, kyara kaburi refers to a situation in which two or more people belonging to the same group (e.g. of friends, classmates, etc.) have similar roles or personality-types. For example, both are leaders, both are smart-alecks etc. The expression “kyara kabutteru” has a nuance somewhat similar to the English phrase “this town ain’t big enough for both of us.”
Professor of Linguistics at Kobe University. Ph.D.: Kyoto University, 1998. Research Interests: Personal Experience in Grammar and Communication.
(1) Bonnou no Bunpou: Taikien o Kataritagaru Hitobito no Yokubou ga Nihongo no Bunpou System o Yusaburu Hanashi (The Grammar of Earthly Desires: How Our Desire to Narrate Daily Experiences Shape Japanese Grammatical Systems). Tokyo: Chikumashobo, 2008;
(2) Sasayaku Koibito, Rikimu Repootaa: Kuchi no naka no Bunka (Whispering Lovers and Creaking Reporters: Culture in Our Mouth). Tokyo: Iwanami, 2005;
(3) Ninchi Gengoron (A Cognitive Study of Language). Tokyo: Taishukan, 2000.