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ごくろうさん gokurousan 【ご苦労さん · 御苦労さん】

expression meaning: I appreciate your efforts

アリさん、今日もご苦労さんだよ。はい、角砂糖あげるよ。 Hi Mr Ant, keeping up the good work today as well. Here's a sugar cube.

ご is the honorific, 苦労 means trouble or hardships, but does the さん have the same meaning of さま when it means "state"?

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up vote 5 down vote accepted

but does the さん have the same meaning of さま when it means "state"?

You could say so. But its literal meaning is already lost and not felt by native speakers anymore just like any other greeting and overly clichéd old idiom.

If you do analyze the very literal meaning of ご苦労様, it would be

"ご = preffix for politeness,"

"苦労 = noun that means trouble/difficulties/whatever that require a lot of effort," and

"様 = suffix for the sense of 'being in the state of.'"

By explicitly saying these words, you mean, in the most literal sense, "I acknowledge that you have been in the state of having to put a lot of effort."

But, to be honest, it's just a fixed phrase you use when someone has just finished some work. So, asking what 様 means here is like thinking of what "there" means in "Hi, there." You may be able to find an interesting etymology or explanation. But the literal meaning, if ever existed in the past, is already lost. I'm not saying trivia, etymology, and stuff like that are not interesting, though.

In any case, さん here is a much friendlier and less serious version of 様. So, it sounds like the speaker doesn't acknowledge the trouble you've gone through as seriously or appreciate the effort as sincerely as if they used 様. This generally applies to other similar set phrases such as お疲れ様 vs. お疲れさん and お待ち遠様 vs. お待ち遠さん. In all cases, さん is much more informal and less serious.

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thank you very much. I think this point is important, however, because as I started to learn Japanese, I always had the feeling of these kind of usages of san or sama being kind of childish (as in, "Thanks mr. hard work!) so it is nice to learn the true meaning (I hope). – yadokari Sep 30 '13 at 18:08
Ok, I understand what you mean. However, to a native speaker, the sense of borderline infantilization that I mistakenly drew from these expressions would probably be considered incorrect (as I suppose), so I am happy to learn the exact nuance. Thanks again. – yadokari Sep 30 '13 at 18:40

This さん is the same one as adding it after someone's name. But a more polite version is ご苦労様【く・ろう・さま】. Here it is being used in a familiar setting, so they use さん instead. There are several topics on this site regarding ご苦労様, so I suggest looking at those as well.

As far as meaning, さん is a contraction of さま, but I don't believe さん・さま being applied to someone's name was ever derived from / used for the meaning of "state".

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This answer is where I got the idea that sama means state: japanese.stackexchange.com/questions/9622/etymology-of-ごちそうさまでした/9623#962‌​3 – yadokari Sep 29 '13 at 20:09
"As far as meaning, さん is a contraction of さま, but I don't believe さん・さま being applied to someone's name was ever derived from / used for the meaning of "state"." Is anyone named "苦労"? – yadokari Sep 29 '13 at 20:11
You are probably right but I don't understand your answer. I imagine that san after a name means something like Mr or Ms but this may be wrong. Is a literal translation of the phrase in question, "Honorable Mr/Ms hardship"? – yadokari Sep 29 '13 at 20:13
It's just a way to "personalize" a trait or characteristic. Like "Mr. hard worker". Of course the person's name isn't "hard worker". Or if you say something like 寿司屋さん, you mean "Mr. Sushi Restaurant" (the owner(s) of the place), not that you think the person's name is actually "Sushi Restaurant". Like I said, look at the other topics on this site for a better meaning of ご苦労様. – istrasci Sep 29 '13 at 20:16
The explanation I remember reading is that さま became an indicator of respect/politeness because it added a level of indirection. That's a common theme in words that add politeness/respect. Like, look at 御門{みかど} (referring to the emperor literally via the gates of the imperial residence) or 陛下{へいか} (referring to a ruler literally by the steps below the throne), or referring to people politely as お方, etc. All of those are indirect ways of referring to people. I don't actually know if this explanation is correct for さま, though... but if it is, I don't think it means "state". – snailplane Sep 29 '13 at 20:25

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