This is a little bit of an encyclopedic question, but I would like to know what separates the four expressions in the title, i.e., what separates them when they are close to referring to the same thing.

I am also interested in learning what would be a more modern/usable replacement for 常套句, since it seems to be a little antique for daily use.

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    Have you tried looking these up in the dictionary for yourself? – ssb May 30 '13 at 12:35
  • Yes. Why the presumption that I wouldn't? I'm asking here because I want to hear a human perspective that is based on current use, not some dodgy dictionary entry. Furthermore, if you read the question carefully, you should see that I am looking for a kind of answer that does not appear in regular dictionaries. Shall I tighten the question down to only two or three words? – bright-star May 31 '13 at 0:34
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    For the record I'm not the one who downvoted you. It's just that you didn't, for example, give sample situations in which the meanings are close or ambiguous, or otherwise indicate exactly where you are having troubles. I think these words are all quite distinct in meaning so in order for you to get the best answer possible you should be as specific as possible in terms of where you're having trouble. – ssb May 31 '13 at 0:50
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    @TrevorAlexander It isn't presumed that you didn't, but we can't assume that you did, either. It's up to askers to show research effort in their questions. Please see How to Ask, which I'll quote here: "Sharing your research helps everyone. Tell us what you found and why it didn’t meet your needs. This demonstrates that you’ve taken the time to try to help yourself, it saves us from reiterating obvious answers, and most of all it helps you get a more specific and relevant answer!" – snailboat May 31 '13 at 1:10
  • I see. I apologize for my callous response, then. – bright-star May 31 '13 at 2:23

As a Japanese person, I'd say:

「言い草」 is often used to indicate the manner a person displays when he / she speaks. For example, if I'm a father and I ask my teenage son about school, and he replies, 「あんたに関係ないだろ」 'Why do I need to tell you?' then I might get fed up and say 「何なんだその言い草は!」 which basically means 'What way of talking is that?' and implies 'Is that the way you talk to your father?'

「決まり文句」 and 「常套句」 are really similar to each other as they are often both used to indicate a typical response. However, the difference is that, 「決まり文句」 is used to indicate a typical response made during a particular scene, and 「常套句」 is used to indicate a typical response made by a particular person. When a person always answers 「別に」 'Not much' when asked any question, and when they respond to yet another question with, 「別に」 again, I might be a bit angry and say 「それはお前の常套句だな」, but I surely won't say 「それはお前の決まり文句だな」.

「名言」 is basically a famous quote by someone. For example, 「『少年よ 大志を抱け』とは、クラーク博士の名言である。」 would be correct.

「諺」, which is 「ことわざ」 (most Japanese would prefer the latter, since the kanji is so complex), is more like a 'proverb', than just a quote. There's a similar term called 「慣用句」, but they are different. Examples of 「ことわざ」s are 「犬も歩けば棒に当たる」「果報は寝て待て」, and examples of 「慣用句」s are 「腹を立てる」「頭が切れる」. As you notice the difference, 「ことわざ」s are complete sentences or imperatives, where 「慣用句」s are incomplete sentences, or combinations of two words, giving them fixed meanings. For instance, 「頭」 means 'head' and 「切る」 means 'to cut.' However, 「頭が切れる」 doesn't mean 'the head is able to be cut', instead, it means someone 'is very smart and intelligent'.

Hope this helps!

  • In the second example, would you be able to say 「それはお前の言い草か」? – bright-star Jun 17 '13 at 0:43
  • @TrevorAlexander speaking in a grammatical sense, it's correct but it sounds VERY weird. – hello all Jun 17 '13 at 7:25
  • I see. I definitely made a は・が error there too :) Anyway, this was definitely the answer I was looking for! Thanks! – bright-star Jun 17 '13 at 11:23
  • Speaking of it, I just noticed it now when you mentioned the は・が issue. No problem! 常套句 and 決まり文句 can be really confusing. :) – hello all Jun 18 '13 at 8:17

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