なに Nani as a Comfort Word

We are working on our next $5 reader. This time it will be Miyazawa Kenji’s 注文の多い料理店 The Restaurant of Many Orders.

This story is great. Not only is it interesting to read, but it also repeats certain themes and grammatical patterns and has a few fun word plays.

I wanted to share one sentence with an interesting (and new to me) usage of なに.

Two city-slicking, gentlemen are in the middle of the mountains on a hunting expedition. They have lost their expert guide, their two dogs (that look like polar bears) have mysteriously died, and they haven’t caught a thing.

Depressed over these events, one of the gentlemen says:

そいじゃ、これで()りあげよう。
Well, let’s call it quits.

なあに(もど)りに、
Hey, on the way back

昨日(きのう)宿屋(やどや)で、
at the inn we stayed at yesterday

山鳥(やまどり)拾円(じゅうえん)()って(かえ)ればいい。
it would be good to buy a 10 yen bird and go home

“Well, let’s call it quits.  Hey, on the way back, we can buy a 10 yen bird at the inn we stayed at yesterday (to show off as a hunting ‘trophy’ back home).”

I haven’t done any serious translation so I really don’t analyze words much.  But the なあに (なに) in the なあに戻りに  line got me.  After a talk with Yumi, I found this in the Kenkyusha J-E:

【なに】

2) (懸念を軽く打ち消す) (to lightly dispel concern; lighten the mood)
「悪い病気でしょうか」「何、ただの風邪ですよ」
“Is it serious?” –“Oh no, just a cold.”

So I decided on ‘Hey’ in the above context.  Maybe that lightens things up a bit.

If you want to read the story now (all in Japanese), head over to Aozora here.  (Or you can wait until we release our next $5 product!)

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