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I have come across the following in a piece of fiction (「永遠のジャック&ベティ」, by 清水{しみず}義範{よしのり}):

「今日は上着を着ているためには暑すぎます」

◯◯するには☓☓すぎる。つまり、暑くて上着なんか着ていられない、という意味だった。

As you can see, the bolded sentence is presented as an example of a Japanese sentence structure, with the ◯◯ and ☓☓ standing in for two arbitrary 動詞 (or 形容詞 or 形容動詞, I guess). It is part of the running prose (i.e. not dialogue), so no character in the story actually speaks it.

How do you read this aloud, though? My first instinct is to read it as 「マルマルするにはバツバツすぎる」, but this seems kind of weird to me. I've seen マル used a lot as a placeholder, but バツ seems to carry with it a meaning of "wrong" or "incorrect" and doesn't seem like a neutral placeholder.

EDIT: My professor claims that it is incorrect to read both the ◯◯ and the ☓☓ above identically (as なになに), because then you lose the fact that the ◯◯ and ☓☓ can (and perhaps should) be distinct lexical items. In light of this, I have provisonally unaccepted @tdes's answer and am now hoping for answers with some sort of authoritative citation.

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    ×× can also be read as チョメチョメ or ペケペケ :) By the way, those placeholders themselves are called [伏字]{ふせじ}. – execjosh Sep 23 '13 at 13:15
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    @execjosh Why don't you make that into an answer? If there are multiple ways to read these things, we may as well have all of them in answers. – senshin Sep 23 '13 at 15:33
  • Agreed, comments are not for answers. – istrasci Sep 23 '13 at 15:38
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Both the OO and XX are pronounced なになに。 (なになに)するには(なになに)すぎる。

Source: I just asked my partner who is from Japan.

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    I've also heard/used なんとかなんとか. – istrasci Sep 23 '13 at 15:09
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    May be worth noting that it can change in context, as in 〇〇さん (だれだれ) – ssb Sep 23 '13 at 15:38
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    I would use ほんにゃら or ほんにゃらかんにゃら – Jesse Good Sep 24 '13 at 10:45
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About your edit, I highly doubt that a professional linguist would describe something "incorrect" or "wrong." Linguistics does not judge correctness or define what is right. It's totally against the concept of descriptive grammar.

The professor you're talking about has absolutely zero authority in defining what others should pronounce OO and XX, or any word for that matter. Even dictionaries never dictate the actual usage, meaning, and pronunciation of a word; they only try to describe the current state of the language.

To answer your question, these placeholds don't have "correct" readings. If you're having a hard time swallowing this, ask yourself what the "correct" readings of underlines and blank boxes in a fill-in-a-blank test in English. A cloze test may have a question like

He __ John.

where you have multiple choices: 1. is, 2., are, 3. am, 4. be. and so on. So, what's the "reading" of this underline? The placeholder in the next question could be a blank box. Would your professor claim that underlines and blank boxes must be pronounced differently because they must be distinct lexical items?

Placeholders are placeholders. Nothing special about them. "○○" and the like are pronounced まるまる (most likely reading for this particular placeholder), なになに (most generic of the bunch), だれだれ (when referring to a person), ほにゃらら (a bit humorous), and many other ways. Your first instinct "マルマルするにはバツバツすぎる" sounds perfectly natural to me, too. In fact, I think that's the most likely reading native speakers would use.

If you want a real example that backs up your instinct, here's an official document (application form for tender on construction contracts):

http://www.pref.kyoto.jp/shimei/documents/h25tebiki_denshi_1.pdf

On page 13 (or page 15 in PDF count), there is a sample instructing how to fill out the form. There, you can find a bunch of placeholders including ○○, ××, and △△. And some of them have readings on top of them. For example, 日本○○設計 has kana "にほんまるまるせっけい" there. 代表者の氏名 (name of representative) is filled as "○○ ××," which has まるまる ばつばつ as their readings.

You can also read the Wikipdeia article on 伏字 here:

http://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E4%BC%8F%E5%AD%97

伏字 is a special use of placeholders such as censoring certain letters. It's a bit different than your example. But you can learn how ○ and × can be read in this case there.

Anyway, if someone reads a placeholder aloud in a specific way, if everyone understands what he means, and if it sounds as good as any other, that's perfectly fine. Your professor can insist that it's "incorrect" to pronounce underlines and blank boxes the same way as much as he or she wants. But that's not gonna fly in linguistics. His or her doctrine has nothing to do with how we, as Japanese speakers, native or nonnative, should speak Japanese. It's none of that person's business.

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Collating some of the information that's floating around in comments:

@execjosh says that ☓☓ can be read チョメチョメ or ペケペケ. He also notes that these placeholders are called 伏字{ふせ.じ}.

@istrasci writes that なんとかなんとか can also be used to read placeholders.

@ssb notes that the choice of interrogative word can change depending on context (e.g. 〇〇さん would be read ダレダレさん, not ナニナニさん).

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When I attended Japanese lessons in the シベリア·北海道 文化センター we pronounced placeholders directly as まるまる or ばつばつ. Of course, なになに is also OK.

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  • I've always used まるまる or なになに myself, depending on what made the most sense at the time. – Kaji Mar 30 '14 at 16:12
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Let me post a list of possible readings of "blanks".

Generic readings:

  • なになに
  • ほにゃらら (sounds like a veriety show)
  • なんとか
  • なんちゃら, なんたら (slangy)

Context-specific readings:

  • だれだれ: "someone"
  • どこどこ: "somewhere"
  • いついつ
  • ピー: *bleep*, *censored*

Symbol-specific readings:

  • まるまる: for ○○
  • ばつばつ: for ××
  • ぺけぺけ: for ×× (informal)
  • ちょめちょめ: for ×× (old-fashioned and has a sexual connotation)

(There are no common symbol-specific readings for △△, □□, ☆☆, ※※, etc., all of which are used as placeholders. Something like さんかくさんかく is too lengthy.)


These are all common. NHK's language learning programs prefer なになに/どこどこ/だれだれ/いついつ because they can specify the role of a word in a sentence. Symbol-specific readings such as まるまる and ばつばつ are also perfectly valid, especially when you want to retain the distinction of the two blanks (but IMHO this is not necessary in most cases. だれだれはだれだれを紹介した is not confusing at all).

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  • Would you say ちょめちょめ is more idiomatic than other options for when ×× is being used as censorship as opposed to a generic blank, or is there no distinction made? – Darius Jahandarie Feb 6 at 2:29
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    @DariusJahandarie Both ×× and ちょめちょめ have some association with sex-related words, but this is a rather old tendency. Today ちょめちょめ may come off to young people simply as "an unfamiliar but funny 昭和 word". – naruto Feb 6 at 2:57

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