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Why does お[馬鹿]{ばか}さん contain an honorific? If you're basically calling someone silly, why be "polite" about it? Also, what is the difference in meaning between お馬鹿さん and just 馬鹿 (I hear the former much less frequently)?

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In english if you want to be cute it's perfectly natural to say "Hey mr. stupid~" or something to that effect. Same thing, though the japanese example has more nuances. –  yadokari May 1 '12 at 3:16
    
Well, the さん wasn't too concerning to me as much as the お. –  LucasTizma May 1 '12 at 5:16
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2 Answers 2

up vote 7 down vote accepted

お馬鹿さん isn't "idiot"; it is softer, more like "silly". Also note the -san suffix.

If a little boy named Daisuke is looking for his cap, while actually wearing it, you could say, 今日、大ちゃんは ちょっと お馬鹿さんになってきた、ね! 灯台もと暗し

This is soft compared to something abrupt like おまえが馬鹿だよ!

There is a need in language to have a soft way to say "silly".

This is not to say that we can wrap "o- and -san" (or "-sama") around any derogatory word and make it into a nice word. "Obakasan" is a word.

Or ... can we?

Let's consider the word 犯人 (criminal, guilty). Would it ever make sense to have the word ご犯人様 (o-hannin-sama?)?(We use the go- prefix because hannin is a Sino-Japanese compound, and there is no o- exception for it.) You might think not, right? It is terrible to be a criminal.

But, take a look at this page:

http://happy.ap.teacup.com/sasahirobase/431.html

This is someone Japanese person's blog with pictures. One pictures shows a damaged wooden floor with scratches.

The following picture is a cute picture of a dog. The caption is ... ご犯人様です

This expresses "this is our little culprit".

The blogger doesn't hate the culprit (quite the opposite), and the "crime" is petty.

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Ah, I see. I've edited my question to reflect that. Still, my question remains as to why the honorific is there. –  LucasTizma Apr 30 '12 at 21:10
    
The honorific particle makes it soft, as well as the -san suffix. Baka is harsh. –  Kaz Apr 30 '12 at 21:28
    
Interesting. I wasn't aware that honorifics could be used like this. –  LucasTizma Apr 30 '12 at 21:30
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While your answer in general seems good, I would call the example sentence into question, both grammar-wise and the use of the ことわざ at the end that is more likely to confuse than to inform. Perhaps you could take another look? (or correct me if I'm wrong) –  ジョン Apr 30 '12 at 23:47
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@ジョン I will take another look. Being lazy, I will get someone Japanese to look over the sentence; I just played it loose and wrote Japanese the way I'm used to hearing it. The ことわず (saying) 灯台基暗し (toudai moto kurashi) deserves an explanation: it means that "it is dark at the base of the lighthouse", a metaphor for the situation of not being able to find what is misplaced right under your nose, so to speak (another metaphor from our own English: it is dark under the nose too, evidently). –  Kaz May 1 '12 at 1:42
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Back in the 80's, baka! as an expletive was a vulgar swear word. A Diet member used it on another politico on TV and I still remember the public outrage. Of course, no one said 'it sucks' on American TV either back then. A better definition of baka would be sh*thead not 'fool'. As for the honorific, remember that Omae (you) is both a fighting word level insult and a term of endearment depending on whom you are addressing. I would look at the actual biographies of the sayer and the sayee, and would be very interested to hear how social norms have changed from the boom era when I lived there.

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