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十中八九 is one of my favorite phrases. I don't use it that much, but it is still one of my favorites all the same. Almost every dictionary I have used translates it as "nine times out of ten," which I think is wrong, since the kanji for 八 is also in it. The only exception is jisho.org, which says it's eight or nine times out of ten, which I'm assuming is more correct. In a cruel twist of irony, however, even the example sentence on jisho.org ignored the 八 kanji!

So is the gap in translation here due to the fact that in English we say 9 times out of 10, where the Japanese say 8 or 9 times out of ten? In other words, is the difference between these phrases cultural?

I can't help but think of the Dragon Ball Z translation where the Japanese "八千以上!" is translated to English as "It's over 9000!" However, I doubt that there's a connection in these two cases.

Also, am I correct in understanding 十中八九 as "Out of 10, 8 or 9 (times)?" I've never been 100% confident on how to break it down.

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Goo dictionary and my dictionary also explain it as "8 or 9 times out of ten". I think we usually think so.

As for Dragon Ball, I have no idea why "八千以上" is translated as "It's over 9000!". The translator may have added some power.

  • What do you mean by, "I think we usually think so?" Also, I think you're right in saying that the translator may have added a bit of power. – ajsmart Jun 12 '17 at 20:59
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    It means we usually think it is "8 or 9 times out of ten". I think there are problems with the translator because Japanese dictionaries usually explains it as 十のうちの八か九まで. – Yuuichi Tam Jun 13 '17 at 4:37
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I think your interpretation is correct. At the most basic interpretation, 十中八九 "Within 10; 8, 9." 9 times out of 10 might be a basic extrapolation on a phrase that is more likely to mean "a vast majority of the time"

Aside from this, Japanese tend to use two numbers in sequence when they are referring to approximations (think 二三日 for "a couple of days" or "several days")

  • I see what you're trying to say, but I've always found that when they say 二三日 or 五六日、they were pretty accurate. I usually relied on the numbers they gave me, but should I have taken that as "a few days" (or something along those lines) instead? – ajsmart Jun 12 '17 at 21:44
  • A little of both. Japanese people don't like breaking a promise, I think, so if they say 二三日 the expression is definitely "a couple days", "2 or 3 days", "several days" or something of the sort, but given that they said 2 or 3 they specifically mean 2 or 3 for the sake of keeping the promise of time. If anything we (the English speakers) are the imprecise ones when it comes to our expressions of time! – psosuna Jun 12 '17 at 21:50

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