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Okay I read a light novel and found a phrase that seems nonsensical to me.

The sentence is: "私を見ながら背中に嫌な汗を掻いた。" The context is that a character in the story just realize something about the Main Character.

The phrase that confuse me is "背中に嫌な汗を掻いた。"

Is "getting your back wet with sweat" an idiomatic phrase in Japanese? Does that means he was fear or afraid?

What does it really mean? I try to search the dictionary that I have but I don't find the relevant meaning.

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嫌な汗 is commonly used and refers to sweat that comes out in a "bad situation", especially in anticipation of a "bad situation". In my personal opinion it emphasizes how the person is still maintaining his/her composure (rather than flailing around, screaming, running away etc.) despite being very worried or distressed inside.

For example, if you are a fighter pilot and realize you don't have enough fuel to get home, or you are walking in a sketchy part of town and you realize sketchy figures are following you, or you are a sword master and you realize the opponent is much stronger than you thought, etc.

背中に is just a choice by the author I think. You could equally say 顔に嫌な汗をかいた、but perhaps it serves to further emphasize how he/she is maintaining composure (because if you are all sweaty on your face, it's easier to notice).

  • Ah, thank you. So it means he try to keep his composure.... Thank you... Japanese author loves to use idiomatic phrase that I need to consult dictionaries every some paragraphs or so.... But that just because of my lack of familiarity with it... – Satori Wita Oct 24 '15 at 10:44

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