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I've heard this used (also as 寝ぼけんじゃねぇよ!) in informal situations with nothing but smiles all around. But when I tried to use it in an informal situation with a colleague, I got the distinct feeling I'd just insulted him. I know it's tough (for me, at least) always to accurately gauge just how "friendly/informal" to be, and I try to err on the side of politeness always, but this one just stumped me. How friendly do you have to be with someone before you can use this expression?

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In those situations you saw, who said it to who? (Position(立場)-wise, that is) –  Matti Virkkunen May 31 '11 at 22:42
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Depends entirely on the context. Not only does it have to be an appropriate levels of politeness but it has to be well calibrated. You see the flipside of this when Japanese learners of English overuse expletives in English and end up sounding a little inappropriate. –  Ali May 31 '11 at 22:42
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It would be kool if you could translate it so non japanese speakers or early learners would understand it too –  Herr K May 31 '11 at 22:44
    
@Herr Kaleun: It means, roughly, "Are you alseep?" with the added implication of "Hey, wake up" or "Pay attention." –  Robusto May 31 '11 at 23:45
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@Pacerier: Sometimes people speak really fast and that's what it sounds like. Possibly I'm mishearing 寝ぼけんじゃねぇよ! and it's not really a contraction of the longer expression, but I feel fairly sure this is at least a pretty good guess. When people speak quickly they can be hard to understand, especially if they're eating. In American English we say things like "Wutchagunnado?" ("What are you going to do?"), and that kind of utterance has to be incredibly difficult for a non-native speaker to parse. –  Robusto Jun 25 '11 at 11:40
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Trust yourself. If you have to apologize for being too casual, that's fine. That's just how you learn what's appropriate. Everyone here is just guessing at what they would do, etc. You're the only one who was there and really felt the atmosphere.

Also, it may be hard to tell if he was insulted or if he was just surprised that you would use that phrase. Maybe he's insulted that you're getting better and more confident in Japanese and don't fit into his impression of you anymore. (totally speculating)

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This phrase is definitely too informal for using with a colleague at work, for three reasons:

  1. It makes the assumption that the listener's mind is fuzzy from drowsiness, which (unless this detail is offered by the listener) is kind of a rude thing to assume.

  2. It uses a strong negative command form (~んじゃない), further emphasized by the sentence-ending よ.

  3. The ない is pronounced as ねぇ, which drops the formality level another notch.

You should reserve constructions like this for situations where your position relative to the listener justifies your use of this form (i.e. when you are well above the listener), or among very good friends who can take a verbal jab in good humor (since this sentence has a sharp bite to it).

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Yes, I'm familiar with your three points. But the colleague I refer to was in a group of us about the same age and position who would take lunch together, and laugh and joke informally, and I'd heard someone say this to him about a month before. He laughed out loud (even with a mouthful of noodles) on that occasion. –  Robusto May 31 '11 at 23:51
    
@Robusto heys i think its a gd idea to ask him about it and tell us what he really thought –  Pacerier Jun 25 '11 at 10:51
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the 「じゃねぇよ」 part is very very impolite as it is like yelling at them for even suggesting that you were 寝ぼけ in the first place. It's how you would respond if you were falsely accused of something. 「じゃないよ」 is much more more appropriate

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See my comment to Derek Schaab above. –  Robusto May 31 '11 at 23:52
    
just because someone used that phrase with him before doesn't mean that YOU can use it. Even if you are the same age and position, it depends on how close of a friend he sees you. Though what I suspect happened was that he was just surprised that you said that, esp. if you haven't used such a impolite phrase with him before. He may also not have known you were joking or weren't offended. Just ask him about it –  Mark Hosang Jun 1 '11 at 0:22
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