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In Liza Dalby's book "Geisha", while talking about onsen geisha, she mentions various pejorative terms from the general public. She mentions "korobi" (roll-over, presumably 転び) geisha, and "Daruma" (a doll that tumbles down, presumably だるま) geisha, both of which I understand the imagery of.

But how does the term "shomben geisha" (小便芸者, I assume) work? Dalby translates it as "toilet geisha", and jisho.org describes 小便 as a colloquial word for urine. I understand that it's a derogatory term, with the same ultimate meaning as the other two terms, but not the imagery involved. Is it because of the male anatomy used with 小便?

(By the way, Dalby also notes that skilled artists exist in the onsen towns, sentiments that I'd echo)

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  • FYI, だるま can also be written 達磨.
    – istrasci
    Jan 27, 2014 at 15:26
  • 2
    Similar English terms like "piss-poor" exist too.
    – Flaw
    Jan 28, 2014 at 5:17

2 Answers 2

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I do not claim to know the origin of this particular term [小便芸者]{しょんべんげいしゃ} but I have reasons to doubt the male anatomy hypothesis.

In the most vulgar kind of Japanese, [小便]{しょんべん} is sometimes added to a noun like a prefix to express the speaker's hatred or strong disrespect of the object. The nuance it carries is much worse than "good for nothing". For this purpose, 小便 is pronounced しょべん rather than the dictionary reading しょべん.

Examples: 小便[議員]{ぎいん}(Diet member)、小便[役者]{やくしゃ}(actor)、小便[国家]{こっか}(nation) 、小便[飲み屋]{のみや}(bar), etc.

Thus, I would tend to assume that the term 小便芸者 came by this route.

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小便芸者 means a poor geisha. Because such geisha often excuses herself from playing shamisen(三味線) or performing Mai(舞) to fudge on.

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