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Mainly inspired by this question on what seems to be the misuse of a standard idiom by a Japanese employee, I was reminded of being told about バイト敬{けい}語{ご} ("manual keigo") in the past: a slightly dumbed-down sonkeigo crash course handed to new kombini recruits, that covers the basics but often results in widespread misuse of proper keigo forms at the hands of young Japanese unused to this level of speech.

I know there were a couple very specific examples of classic mistakes (generally: confusions between sonkeigo and kenjôgo). Wikipedia (en) lists a few disputed forms (「おつぎのお客{きゃく}様{さま}」,「〜になります」...) present in the manuals themselves...

I'd be interested to hear if anybody has other examples of egregious misuse and why they are not correct.

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    I don't approve of the word "mistake" in the heading here. If you have the kind of job where you have to follow the manual or you get fired, it is not a "mistake" to do what the manual says, even if the manual happens to include language that others may find objectionable (or, more likely, pretend to find objectionable as an oblique claim of social or intellectual superiority over their minimum-wage-earning interlocutor).
    – Matt
    Oct 17, 2011 at 1:20
  • @Matt: point taken. And to a larger extent, one could criticise the ultra-prescrivist approach reflected in the view held by purists regarding "manual keigo" (especially when said "improper" forms have probably become the standard). That being said, "mistakes" seemed the easiest way to carry the meaning across in a title. If you have better suggestion, I'm open to updates :-)
    – Dave
    Oct 17, 2011 at 5:36
  • How about something like "What distinctive features of 'manual keigo'/バイト敬語 are considered incorrect by more traditional keigo style manuals?" That allows for the reality that the idea of "incorrectness" is probably the majority view without granting it the status of objective fact. (That said, the title doesn't bother me all that much -- I do understand the spirit it was intended in. I just wanted to explicitly put the prescriptivist POV on record too.)
    – Matt
    Oct 17, 2011 at 9:17
  • Nihongo no Shiranai Nihongo covers this in episode 2: youtu.be/bjEhZOK80q0?t=4m32s
    – Golden Cuy
    Oct 21, 2011 at 15:04
  • As a foreigner learning Japanese, I may as well learn the "incorrect" (descriptivist) keigo, and not bother learning the "correct" (prescriptivist) keigo, unless I plan to be speaking this kind of keigo myself.
    – Golden Cuy
    Oct 21, 2011 at 15:16

3 Answers 3

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Using ~から like 1万円からお預かりします, which seems to be grammatically incorrect.

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  • I don't even know how that would make sense... Jun 13, 2011 at 9:23
  • @YOU: Not sure if you mean that 「〜1万円から」is or isn't grammatically correct...? Wikipedia article I linked seems to say the form is only incorrect when paired with 預かりします, but makes good sense (and probably is the root of the confusion) when used on its own (to mean "giving back change from ~")...
    – Dave
    Jun 13, 2011 at 9:34
  • @Dave, I supposed to mean that one, but I wasn't sure there is another usage, so I left it out. May be I should put it.
    – YOU
    Jun 13, 2011 at 9:34
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    から is grammatically incorrect here. It should be . It's supposed to be <人>から<もの>を預かる. So the correct statement should be お客様から一万円をお預かりします.
    – istrasci
    Jun 13, 2011 at 17:59
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    Related: i.imgur.com/HPblU.jpg
    – phirru
    Jun 15, 2011 at 6:35
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Another one that is frequently brought up is 「ご注文は以上でよろしかったでしょうか?」, where the "correct" form is 「ご注文は以上でよろしいでしょうか?」.

Adding 「~のほう」 is also very common (e.g. 「お車のほうは大丈夫でしたか?」).

These are all attempts to soften the language (i.e. to be more polite) (at least according to my theory!). The first example uses past tense, the second uses an indirection by talking about the "direction where the car is" rather than just directly mentioning the car itself.

IMO it's always tough to define what is "incorrect" and "correct". After all, even when you look at the Japanese language just 30 years ago, it's quite different from how it's spoken now. Not to mention how it changed since the Meiji-era etc. :p

Personally I find these indirections annoying but perhaps that's just how the language is evolving. Right now though, it is true that many consider these 敬語 to be wrong. Especially older ppl.

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お釣りは、◯◯円になります。

If someone said this, I'd reply with

おおすごい! 本当に◯◯円になったよ。手品か?!
Wowie! It really became xx yen. Is it a magic trick?!

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    why? 「になります」to me is in that situation a polite 「です」. Did I miss something?
    – Axioplase
    Jul 17, 2011 at 16:09
  • This is also not really wrong. なります is "softer" than です. It is true that some consider this as wrong, but it's very very commonly used. Jul 17, 2011 at 16:13
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    This is perfectly correct. It can be better translated as "The change turns out to be __ yen", not "became". Jul 17, 2011 at 16:18
  • @Axioplase If you are talking about the honorific form お...になる, then first of all, that applies to verbs only, and if it were possible, that means you are showing respect to the coins.
    – user458
    Oct 15, 2011 at 16:09
  • I don't even think of any honorific form when I hear "お釣り". All I hear is "your change amounts to ○○," politely.
    – Axioplase
    Oct 17, 2011 at 1:55

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