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Hearing the word 小悪魔 used here and there, I had always foolishly assumed that the addition of that '小' in front, made it a much more harmless, playful, version of the real thing. And consequently, calling someone (with whom one is familiar enough, of course) '小悪魔', would be akin to using the literal equivalent in English, where nobody would ever be offended at being called a "little devil".

However, recent conversations have sown the seeds of doubt in my mind, and upon checking the dictionary (what I should have done earlier), I find that the official definition given by WWWJDIC is:

小悪魔 [こあくま] (n,adj-na) (col) rogue, devil, imp

... which has zero playfulness to it, and sounds about just as bad as calling somebody "Satan" or "the Devil" (悪魔 without 小).

My question is therefore:

How strong (and potentially offensive) is the word in a casual context? Does it have any of the "harmless naughtiness" overtones a clueless English speaker might expect from such a term?

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2 Answers 2

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Your instinct was basically correct -- WWWJDIC isn't really the authority on nuances ;)

大辞泉 sums up the literal and colloquial meanings quite well, judging from my experience:

1 小さく力の弱い悪魔。しょうあくま。
2 男性の心を翻弄(ほんろう)する、魅力的な若い女性。

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A quick Google check turns up a lot of Cosmo-style how-to-be-a-coquette sites with fashion, make-up, lifestyle, and dating advice. There's even a fashion magazine called "小悪魔ageha" aimed at courting-aged girls: http://infor.co.jp/publications/esp.php?_page2=detail&_itemCd=15 . Based on that, it doesn't seem any more insulting than "You're a real knock-out, Babe", but I suppose there are contexts where that could be dangerous too.

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Actually (although it slipped my mind when I wrote the question), I saw that magazine before. That being said, the word "bitch" (and variants) is used by a noticeable portion of the population to address female friends: I still wouldn't use it even on close friends ;-) –  Dave Sep 10 '11 at 5:10
    
Good point, although if the meaning of "小悪魔" were as charged as that of "bitch", I doubt it would be used for a magazine title. Although, having seen some of the English on Japanese T-shirts, I can imagine a Japanese fashion magazine called "Bitch!".(笑) –  rdb Sep 10 '11 at 5:31
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