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My JLPT textbook has a section on the use of ~とばかりに. It explains that the term means to do something with such a strong implication that the meaning is obvious, even though one isn't directly stating the intended meaning.

For one of the examples, it says:

親子{おやこ}げんかをした時{とき}、父{ちち}は出{で}て行{い}けとばかりに玄関{げんかん}を指差{ゆびさ}した。

This makes sense to me. The father is not actually saying, "get out,", but his action of pointing to the door so obviously implies it that his meaning is clear.

However, there is this other example which confuses me:

注文{ちゅうもん}した料理{りょうり}が来{く}ると、子どもたちは待{ま}ってましたとばかりに食{た}べ始{はじ}めた。

This I don't get, because presumably the kids have actually waited for the food to arrive (unless the restaurant has quantum based instantaneous service...). So what purpose is とばかりに serving here?

What exactly does とばかりに mean?

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3 Answers 3

up vote 6 down vote accepted

To answer this specific final question:

So what purpose is とばかりに serving here?

Here are two possible versions:

  1. 注文した料理が来ると、子どもたちは待ってましたとばかりに食べ始める
    Once the food that they'd ordered arrived, the children began to eat as if to say that they'd been waiting.
  2. 注文した料理が来ると、子どもたちは食べ始める
    Once the food that they'd ordered arrived, the children began to eat.

Both of them make it clear that the children started eating when their food arrived. But only the first one explains how they started eating, i.e. "as if to say that they'd been waiting".

Now, as you say, obviously they had been waiting. But saying so (or doing something "as if to say so") implies that the waiting was notable to them, i.e. it was a long wait, or they were really hungry so any wait felt long to them. People usually don't say things unless they have a reason to.

That is, 待ってましたとばかりに isn't about the objective fact of waiting (the wait might not even have been that long; kids are impatient), but rather, the message that the children (perhaps involuntarily) send, by their actions, about their own subjective experience.

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If ばかりに is preceded by と, then it takes on the meaning of "as if someone was saying ~".

So I guess for your second example of 注文した料理が来ると、子どもたちは待ってましたとばかりに食べ始める would be something along the lines of "Once the food that they had ordered arrived, the children began to eat as if to say that they had been kept waiting."

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Compare with ~と言わんばかり(だ、に)。 I usually think of it as "As if but to say"/"All but...to say..." and other expressions of the type. It's helpful to parse the sentence as:

  • 言わんとする - Older volitional "attempt" construction

Then it sounds like "All but trying to..." or something similar, incorporating the volitional aspect. Someone pointing their finger angrily at the door is trying to tell you to get out, hence, their volitional action in wanting to express the phrase paints the very(ばかり) phrase they are trying to express(と言わんばかり、とばかり) itself.

Check out Aozora Bunko for (free) older books; I'm sure you'll find these expressions in Natsume Souseki's Botchan or maybe Dazai Osamu's Shayou.

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Related discussion of 言わんばかり here and here. –  snailboat Feb 26 '13 at 11:17

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