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WWWJDIC states that 「だらしない」 can be written with kanji as 「だらし無い」, which suggests that the phrase is a negative construction that uses 「無い」, unlike words like 「すくない」 and 「あぶない」. Furthermore, 「だらしが無い」 and 「だらしの無い」 are listed as the other two variants of the phrase, which imply that the phrase is using 「だらし」 as a noun, instead of being derived from the negative of non-existent verb 「だらしる」. However there is no dictionary entry on 「だらし」 other than as "dalasi", the currency of the country of Gambia, and "だらしない" variants.

So, what exactly is 「だらし」? Or was there a verb 「だらしる」 which is now extinct?

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2 Answers 2

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Interesting question. The 日本国語大辞典 says that だらしない appears to be an inversion of しだらない, quite possibly a self-conscious thing like せるき for きせる (the Edo-period book Ukiyoburo explicitly claims this).

The roots of しだらない are murkier. しだら has negative connotations on its own, and may come from Buddhist jargon, the mimetic しどろ, or somewhere else. But if しだら is negative on its own, then the ない is probably the adjective suffix ない, like in 汚い etc., not the negative 無い.

So: etymologically, there is no such thing as a だらし. しだらない became だらしない, and this was then reanalyzed as だらし + ない. So a phrase like だらしがない is sort of like "Are you being have?" in English: a later reanalysis of a word that didn't originally break down that way.

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Wow I did not know Japanese words can come up from shuffling the syllables of other words. Interesting. And I've never seen the adjective しだらない either. –  Lukman Aug 13 '11 at 21:09
    
I'm not sure if しだらない is even still "in" modern Japanese; I've only ever seen it in old books. As for shuffling syllables, sure, it's a long-standing tradition! (Nowadays mostly upheld by those in entertainment and/or shadier enterprises, but...) There was a question about "neta" here a while ago, which is from "tane"; same sort of thing. –  Matt Aug 13 '11 at 21:35

As for だらし, it seems like Matt gives a good answer. As far as you look the syntax in present Japanese, だらし is a noun (perhaps as a result of reanalysis as Matt notes). Once you accept the reanalysis, the underlying form of this phrase will be だらしがない. It is not uncommon in general that the particle is omitted, and だらしない will be reanalyzed as the result of this. It is also a general fact that, in relative clauses or appositive clauses, the can be optionally replaced by , so だらしのない人 is just an example of this general fact.

Likewise, だらし is not a verb, and there is no such form as だらしる.

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I'm saying that だらしない is different from すくない and あぶない, because in だらしない, the ない is the negative 無い while in すくない and あぶない, the ない is original part of the adjective instead of coming from 無い. Also, I came up with だらしる because I thought maybe it was the case that the verb conjunctive form (連用形), だらし was treated as a noun. I came up with all those wrong assumptions as I'm trying to analyze the origin of だらしない, so please don't be too harsh. Thanks for the が/の explanation though. –  Lukman Aug 13 '11 at 21:01
    
@Lukman Now I see how you came to that idea. It makes sense. –  sawa Aug 14 '11 at 0:03
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I'm not so sure that you can just say that だらし is a noun and だらしない is だらしがない without the が. I personally lean towards the explanation that だらしない is similar to e.g. とんでもない. Although you hear とんでもありません a lot, とんでもないです is really (more) correct. I don't know if the same applies to だらしないです and だらしがありません, but だらしないです sounds a lot more natural to me. –  dainichi Jan 19 '12 at 9:54
    
@dainichi That's a good point. I agree that だらしがありません sounds unnatural. –  sawa Jan 19 '12 at 17:32

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