There must be a word for words like “darake”

In my Japanese lesson the other week, I learned a new word: “darake.”

It is used to describe situations in which there is an abundance of a bad thing. “Doro-darake” means covered in mud. “Kowaikoto-darake” means plagued by fears. “Misu-darake” means rife with errors. “Shakkin-darake” means mired in debt.

Thinking I saw the pattern, I tried to make a sentence using the expression “ase-darake” to mean drenched with sweat – a condition I’m all too familiar with in the midst of a Tokyo summer. But my teacher, and later another native Japanese speaker, told me that sweat doesn’t work with “darake.” Yet mud does. Go figure.

But just a day or two later, I was walking through Ginza when a movie poster caught my eye. The tagline for the film was “Sono umi, same-darake.” This means, “That sea is infested with sharks.”

The poster was for an Australian horror movie called “The Reef,” in which a group of attractive people in their 20s encounter a big, hungry shark after their pleasure boat capsizes. It’s being released in Japan as “Akai Sangoshou,” meaning “The Red Reef.” In light of the tagline and the poster image, the Japanese title seems like overkill.

I may not see this movie, but I was delighted to see the word “darake” on the poster. An infestation of sharks is definitely an abundance of a bad thing.

It was only a few days after that when I happened to tell someone I was allergic to shrimp. She sympathetically replied, “Nihon wa ebi-darake.” In other words, “Japan is crawling with shrimp.”

I have been living in Japan for many years, and until the other week I had never heard the word “darake.” But since learning it, I have come across it twice already.

This is an experience that I’m sure that everyone who has studied the language of the country they are living in can relate to. You learn a new word, a new phrase, a new written character, maybe even a new grammar pattern – and suddenly you start seeing it everywhere. No doubt it’s been there all along. But now, as if by magic, it’s no longer invisible.

This experience can be nearly as startling as the revelation Roddy Piper’s character has in the movie “They Live” – except that it feels a lot better.

There must be a word for this experience.

What is it?

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2 Responses to “There must be a word for words like “darake””

  1. Mark Austin Says:

    It’s called the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon.

    • tokyotombaker Says:

      And so it is! Thanks for the answer.
      In Googling that term to see if it really applied (and it does), I learned that it can also be called “perceptual vigilance.”

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