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I've been seeing やつ used for "thing" reasonably frequently in Manga/online etc, for example:

"It's virtually all stuff like books, those small toys sold with food and small things I suppose."

"Let's set our sights on Fuji. The thing that's called 'the local Fuji.'"

"Honesty is the best policy"

But what kind of a nuance does やつ have and when can it be used compared with and こと? (I'm guessing it might be colloquial, sometimes joking, and possibly sometimes derogatory but I'm not really sure).

Is there any way to translate this usage of やつ into English without losing too much of the original nuance?

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地方富士 = the same as 郷土富士? (e.g. local peaks that have names with the ~富士 suffix, for example 羊蹄山 being also called 蝦夷富士). – nkjt Jul 6 '12 at 12:33
Nice question, I wondered this many times. – Chris Harris Jul 6 '12 at 19:04
@nkjt thanks for the information – cypher Jul 7 '12 at 0:10
up vote 8 down vote accepted

やつ is used as a head noun modified by a relative clause or an appositive clause. My guess is that it can be used only when the referent is what is technically called d(iscourse)-linked, or the set of possible choices is (assumed to be) established within the context. The interest is setting the choice from a given set rather than introducing a new entity to the context.

For example, 細いやつ presupposes that the set of things under consideration is established in the context. Among them, there is/are thing(s) that can be categorized as 細い. What 細いやつ is doing is not introducing an entirely new entity into the context but is picking one from the set of possibilities established in the context.

A: 君はどんな麺が好きなの。
'What kind of noodle/which noodle do you like?'
B: 僕は細いやつが好きだ。
'I like the thin ones'.

As you can see above, when there is a relevant wh-question proceeding it in English, the wh-expressions what kind of ..., which ..., can be used instead of what, where, who. A good English translation for ...やつ would be the ... one(s).

It has a rough nuance compared to the alternative , and a conservative person may not expect it to be used by a female. This is probably connected to the fact that another usage of やつ is an impolite third person pronoun.

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Thanks for the explanations. Sounds very plausible to me, the linguistic terms are also good to know. (Sorry about the careless typo BTW. こまかい came up with 細い on my IME, I should have checked it more carefully...) – cypher Jul 6 '12 at 13:32
Jisho.org provides the following definition: やつ 1: (Usually written using kana alone) (Derogatory) fellow; guy; chap; 2: (Colloquialism) thing; object; 3: (derogatory or familiar) he; she; him; her (Just to connect to the kanji and thereby the etymology.) – dmh Jul 6 '12 at 16:00
Thanks @sawa, dmh. Somehow I never learned やつ as 'thing' and or the notion of d-linked. – medmal Jul 18 '12 at 5:57

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