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お疲{つか}れ様{さま}でした is made of the following components:

お + つかれ + さま + でした。

  1. A honorific affix (お).
  2. Stem of a verb means to get tired (つかれる).
  3. A Noun means appearance (さま).
  4. And でした.

Literally, it means "You appear tired" which creates meaning A in my mind, but actually according to this link it means:

I appreciate your efforts, thank you very much, good work

which creates meaning B in my mind. Why does an expression that carries the meaning of A word by word, but in actual context gives the meaning of B?

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    You're asking what's the logic between "observing (or claiming to observe) that someone is tired" and "appreciating their hard work"?
    – Leebo
    Commented Sep 11, 2023 at 11:10
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    It doesn't mean "don't be tired" whatsoever. Maybe you have trouble understanding why "being tired" seems to be a good thing, culturally speaking?
    – jarmanso7
    Commented Sep 11, 2023 at 11:59
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    What do you exactly mean by "creates a negative meaning in the mind?" Can you expand on this part? I don't understand what you mean.
    – jarmanso7
    Commented Sep 11, 2023 at 12:04
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    Though it's an empty phrase now, I think it can be seen as an expression of empathy. The speaker is putting him/herself in the listener's position, like saying I feel your tiredness. There's also ご愁傷様 to express condolences. It seems to be a cultural thing.
    – aguijonazo
    Commented Sep 11, 2023 at 14:16
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    This さま is not the honorific but the word meaning like 'appearance' or 'state', so it's 'You appear tired (because of your hard work)'
    – Angelos
    Commented Sep 11, 2023 at 14:49

4 Answers 4

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The underlying message is "you worked hard, so you are tired". Hard work being commendable.

An aside remark: it rhymes interestingly with a line in a famous Russian rock song "where the (only) measure for work is tiredness". In that context it's a reference to meaningless work, which only noticeable result is tiredness. So, yes, it's a cultural thing.

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being tired creates a negative meaning in the mind

Sure; generally, we would rather not be tired, than be tired.

Therefore, when someone else has done work, and become tired as a result, we should be grateful.

why does this term convey a positive meaning like the following:

Because we do not say it to encourage someone to keep going (we have other phrases for that, like 頑張ってください); we say it after the person is done (for now). Pay attention to the translation you found:

I appreciate your efforts, thank you very much, good work

Effort and work make people tired. If you point out the fatigue, you also point out its cause.

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I'm new in linguistics topics but I think we can find the right answer in semantics and pragmatics.

Semantics and pragmatics are two different branches of linguistics which the former is involved with the literal meaning of phrases and sentences without considering the context whereas the later deals with meaning in context.

Here I think 「お疲れ様でした」 is a good example that shows difference between semantics and pragmatics in Japanese. It literally means ‘you look tired’, but in the context which appearing tired is caused by hard work it means ‘appreciating your hard work’.

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  • So, your question really was simply about the meaning of the expression, to begin with. I see no reference to any "positive" or "negative" in your own answer...
    – jarmanso7
    Commented Sep 12, 2023 at 11:00
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    @ jarmanso7: Two words positive and negative that I used were not the right choice and caused a lot of confusion. And I modified my question a bit to make it clear. The origin of this negative and positive came from the fact that our teacher had translated this phrase into Persian as "don't be tired" and as a result, I was looking for a negated letter in Japanese phrase. Commented Sep 12, 2023 at 16:18
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It's an idiom, it's a greeting, "Tough job well done." Don't get too deep into analyzing it. It's sort of like taking apart "How do you do?".

But, if you must dive in, otsukaresama is a word on its own, so you really can't separate it and consider it to have the meaning of being tired.

It's often shortened to "otuskare!", just like "How do you do?" may be shortened to "Howdy!"

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