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A: 百均に入ると、何もいらなくても何か買わないと気が済まない人っているんだよね。

B: いるいる。僕だよ。

A: At the dollar store, there is always somebody who has to buy something even if they don't need it.

B: Yes, yes! That's me.

I am told that 気が済まない means "won't be satisfied unless," or when one "must (do something)."

If I translate the expression literally I get confused--

気 spirit/mood/feeling

済まない finish;  come to an end;  excusable;  need not

Would anyone be kind enough to give me a clear and thorough explanation of this expression? I think my main confusion is as to which verb 済まない comes from.

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3 Answers 3

up vote 8 down vote accepted

sum-u has several meanings. The core meaning is for something to to come to an end, conclude. From this, it also takes on the meaning for something to be settled, at rest, or under control (as a result of something being concluded). Putting this together, ki ga sum-u is "for ones feelings to be at rest / under control", hence content. The negative form, ki ga sum-a-nai, is "for ones feelings to not be at rest / under control", hence not-content.

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thank you. is there a relation to the " come to an end, conclude" meaning of sum-u in the expression sumimasen/sumanai (meaning "excuse me")? –  yadokari Oct 17 '12 at 4:26
1  
Yes, it is the same verb and also the same sense. When used to apologize, sum-i-mas-e-n means "(I have done something rude to you, and my feelings) are not at rest". When used to be thankful, the sense is "(I am unable to return the favor, and my feelings) are not at rest". –  Dono Oct 17 '12 at 4:33
    
thanks i never knew that. Is that nuance to the expression still inherent in common usage, or is it just something one says with out really thinking of the specific meaning? was there an older expression that expanded on that meaning of sumimasen? (that sumimasen was reduced from)? –  yadokari Oct 17 '12 at 4:41
    
@yadokari Most native speakers are often not aware or concerned with the literal or etymological. (Often the case in English, as well.) I am not aware of any specific fixed older expressions from which this could have contracted from. A single verb is sufficient to make up a sentence, so extraneous bits may be omitted when the context permits. –  Dono Oct 17 '12 at 5:20

Just to add a viewpoint:

The expression is usually written with 済む, if with kanji at all, but I conjecture that the meaning might actually be closer to 澄む, "clear (up)". This might make it easier to understand the expression intuitively: "doesn't clear my mind".

The page for すみません at 語源由来辞典 confirms that the etymology of 済む and 澄む are the same, and even hints at これでは私の気が済みません as a possible origin of すみません.

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interesting. thank you very much. –  yadokari Oct 18 '12 at 4:03

I find the easiest way to understand and remember this is to remember a particluarly picky colleague who insisted on completeting a certain exercise, not because it was necessary (we had all told her it was not) but because she had initially insisted that it was necessary and did not want to admit it was a waste of time. She ended up completing the exercise to satisfy herself. Afterwards another colleague, Slightly provocatively, asked her;

じゃ、気が澄んだ?

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thanks for the example~ –  yadokari Oct 18 '12 at 16:25

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