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I am trying to translate some dialogue in which one person calls another "savage", in the modern sense of 'brutally direct and merciless in criticism, humor, or behavior.' My question is: is there a Japanese word that corresponds to this modern usage, and if not, what would be the best way to translate this?

So far, I have only been able to find words in Japanese corresponding to "savage = barbarian" (which is a dead end) and "savage = brutal" in the literal sense, but I have no idea whether the meaning carries over with any of these terms (source: jisho.org):

  • 惨い {むごい} = "cruel; merciless; pitiless; brutal; atrocious; inhuman"
  • 残忍酷薄 {ざんにんこくはく} = "cruel; brutal; atrocious; merciless​"
  • 残忍非道 {ざんにんひじょう} = "cruel and inhuman; brutal; merciless​"
  • 残忍冷酷 {ざんにんれいこく} = "atrocious and cold-blooded; cruel; brutal; merciless​"
  • 酷薄 {こくはく} = "cruel; inhumane; callous; brutal​"
  • 猛悪 {もうあく} = "savage; ferocious; atrocious​"

As far as I can tell, these terms all refer to the more violent (original) meaning of the word.

The closest match that I have been able to find so far (as far as I can tell) is 容赦のない {ようしゃのない} "relentless, stern" from weblio.jp, but I am not sure whether that is the best translation possible.

  • So, is your question whether these words can be used figuratively? – A.Ellett Jul 27 '17 at 16:54
  • Pretty much. I did find 容赦のない, which looks a bit closer, but I am not sure – archaephyrryx Jul 27 '17 at 16:55
  • I hasitated to answer this question because I don't know "the modern meaning of savage", but which is it closer, unreserved/frank or rough/violent? – naruto Jul 28 '17 at 3:22
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As you suspect, none of the more literal "savage" words you listed would be a good fit for the more figurative usage.

To call someone "savage" in the figurative sense, something along the lines of 「容赦ねぇな!」 (literally more like "Damn, you don't hold back!") would be my first instinct.

The exact form of the expression will of course depend on the register of the speaker - the standard form would be 容赦がない, but being a distinctly casual expression, it's rarely seen in this form, at least as an exclamation, with the が at least almost always being omitted.

There are also adjectival forms that may be closer to "savage" in some ways, such as 毒舌(の), which refers to a tendency to be harshly honest or insulting (a person with such a tendency being a 毒舌家, and the act of doing so being 毒舌を吐く), but I don't think such forms would be as likely to appear in an exclamation. Perhaps if the context is a more subdued observation, something like 「お前、いつも毒舌吐くよな…」 might be appropriate.

  • if not 「容赦ねぇ」, possible 「遠慮しねぇ」 as well. – psosuna Jul 28 '17 at 0:10
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If you're looking for a word in Japanese that corresponds to "savage" in a literal sense and can be used figuratively, how about [野蛮]{やばん} or [野蛮人]{やばんじん}?

You could use them this way:

  • 「野蛮ね!」/「野蛮だな。」/「野蛮なやつだ。」
  • 「何よ、この野蛮人!」
  • あいつは野蛮だからなあ。He is such a beast. / He is a real animal. (プログレッシブ和英中辞典)

They are often used as a 非難の言葉 (a term of reproach/condemnation).

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