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I understand that せいぜい has implies 'at most' or 'at best' such as:

田中:今日、8時に横浜駅ね。仕事遅くならない?
加村:大丈夫だよ。いつも通りに終わるから、せいぜい7時半までしか残業しないから。

However, in my notes I have my sensei saying that:

*相手の能力などを低く考えている言い方:

『だめだろうけど、せいぜい頑張って。』

I am a little confused by this second usage, is it implying a sense of sarcasm or hopelessness towards the person being spoken? Along the lines of 'the best you can do is try'?

If so, could you provide any other examples which illustrate this second meaning?

Thank you!

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1 Answer 1

I don't read any sarcasm in this. If I were to translate the second one into English I'd say it as "You might fail but please at least try." It's not using any kind of irony, it's just approaching the matter from a pessimistic point of view. Failure will probably be the outcome, but the speaker sees some value in putting forth the effort regardless. The hopelessness that you detect is captured by the explicit "だめだろうけど" and the meaning implied by telling someone to "at least" try. It's just too direct to be sarcasm, in my opinion.

As a side note I find it interesting that you could potentially translate せいぜい as both "at least" and "at most."

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Thank you for your response. I see what you mean in that there is not a sense of sarcasm. I suppose it based on the context of the sentence whether せいぜい is either used to express a hopeful or grim objective. Meaning, there is not an inherit emotion or nuance built into the phrase. –  hillsonn Jun 23 '13 at 14:31

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