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WWWJDIC says すっと means "quickly / all of a sudden" yet it can also mean "quietly / gently / softly"

So basically I was wondering how do we tell if すっと means "quickly / all of a sudden" or "quietly / gently / softly"?

E.g. in this sentence: カタツムリがすっと角を出した。

Does it mean:

1) Gently, the snail shot out its horns.

2) All of a sudden, the snail shot out its horns.

3) both 1) and 2) ?

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try to click on the [Ex] link in WWWJDIC. That example is there with a translation. (maybe a better question is "when does "すっと" mean quietly/gently/softly) – repecmps Jul 3 '11 at 5:48
the translation provided was "The snail shot out its horns.", but whether it was "gently" or "all of a sudden" was not written.. – Pacerier Jul 3 '11 at 6:15
"shot" sounds like sudden to me – repecmps Jul 3 '11 at 6:46
Keeping in mind we are talking about a snail... Suddenness is a relative matter. – Dave Jul 3 '11 at 6:49
@Dave: Maybe you've seen a snail before, horns are pretty fast... – repecmps Jul 3 '11 at 12:45
up vote 9 down vote accepted

My dictionary defines すっと with these four meanings:

  1. 真っすぐ,ほっそりと (straight or slender)
  2. 素早く (quickly)
  3. 滞りなく (without delay/obstacle)
  4. 気分がさっぱりと (refreshed/neat/plain feelings)

So what do all these have in common? All of them vaguely mean smooth. I'd describe すっと as pretty much an onomatopoeia (though I don't think it's officially classified as such). In English you may say zzzzzzip.

すっと伸びた枝 - a branch growing out straight

"The branch grows out like zzzzzzzip." (smooth and straight)

すっと立って老人に席を譲った - He immediately stood up and gave his seat to the elderly

"He stood up like zzzzzzip." (in a flash, smoothly, without delay)

彼はすっと大学に入った - He was admitted to college straight out of high school

"He was admitted like zzzzzzzip." (smoothly, without delay)

よく寝たので頭がすっとした - As I had a good sleep, I feel refreshed.

"My head feels like zzzzzzzip." (fresh, clear)

For your case, I think neither quickly nor gently translate very well:


"The snail extended her horns like zzzzzzzzzip."

In the case of a snail, that probably means both smooth and fast (as far as snails go). The horns just extended like すっと.

I hope this gives you more of a feel of how this is used. When used in speech, accompanied by a hand motion, it's pretty much self-explanatory. :)

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this is pretty cool =D so basically.. it's supposed to be ambiguous? – Pacerier Jul 3 '11 at 14:27
It's not supposed to be ambiguous, it's a word that has no clear translation, but that you usually understand in context. 気持ちだよ、気持ち! :-) – deceze Jul 3 '11 at 22:36
Ok thanks for the info =D – Pacerier Jul 4 '11 at 1:10

Answer to your question is "3) both".

すっと is an onomatopea-derived adverb, and keep in mind that Japanese onomatopea has non-voiced vs. voiced pairs pretty much systematically. In general, there is a following contrast:

Non-voiced: quiet, gentle, soft, small, light, etc.
Voiced:     noisy, rough, hard, large, heavy, etc.

So, the voiced counterpart to すっと will be ずっと, which means a heavy large thing moved with sound. Other examples will be:

カリカリ scratching : ガリガリ scraping
トントン knocking   :  ドンドン banging
パーン firecracker bursting : バーン bomb bursting
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heys cool that's something new ! – Pacerier Jul 4 '11 at 1:23
never noticed that. 勉強になった – dainichi Feb 5 '12 at 6:29

Deceze gave the most decent interpretation of すっと that I know of. On the other hand, the meaning "quietly / gently / softly" is more appropriately attributed to そっと. You can refer to Goo's Dictionary (Digital Daijisen) and Thesaurus (Ruigo Reikai Jiten) for usage examples.

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