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Context: Bob is angry that event X happened today. A series of unfortunate events throughout his life led up to this crappy day, and thus he thinks to himself, "if only things were different". How do I translate this line when 'things' refer to 'basically everything bad that has ever happened' and is so vague and all-encompassing that even Bob doesn't know what specific things he's referring to?

thingsさえこんなんじゃなかったら

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    Please write answers in the answers section. – snailcar Oct 5 '17 at 3:51
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"If only~~." is often translated as 「~でさえあればなあ。」「~でありさえすればなあ。」「~さえすればなあ。」 or 「~ばいいのに(なあ)。」「~たらなあ。」, etc.

For example...

  • 彼が間に合って来さえすればなあ。If only he comes in time. (Genius E-J Dictionary)
  • 彼女がもう少し早く来てさえいればなあ。If only she had come earlier. (Genius E-J / J-E Dictionary)
  • タバコがやめられさえすればなあ。If only I could stop smoking! (Lexis E-J Dictionary)

I think your sentence can translate to something like...

"If only things were different."
lit. 「事態/状況が違ってさえいればなあ。」
⇒ or more naturally...
「こんなこと* に(さえ)ならなければなあ。」 or 「こんなこと* に(さえ)ならなかったらなあ。」

*The 「こと」 is used in the sense of 「[事態]{じたい}」("things" or "situation"), as in 「困ったことになった」「まずいことになった」「大変なことになった」(lit. "Became bad/difficult situation." → "Things became bad / went wrong." "We're in trouble.")

  • he thinks to himself, "if only things were different". <-- 「If only things were different.」って1文ですか?それとも「If only things were different, I would blah blah...」みたいな条件節ですか? – Chocolate Oct 5 '17 at 7:42
  • 1文です。条件節の場合は「なあ」を取り除くだけでは? – idlackage Oct 5 '17 at 17:54
  • ^ 1文です。 -- わかりました。ありがとうございます。条件節の場合は「なあ」を取り除くだけでは? -- はい、そう思います。 – Chocolate Oct 6 '17 at 2:01
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もし(事情・状況)が違っていたら、 If only circumstances were any different...

もしそうでもなかったら、 If only that wasn't so...

should work, I believe. もし reinforces a "what-if" idea or theoretical scenario.

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Context: Bob is angry that event X happened today. A series of unfortunate events throughout his life led up to this crappy day, and thus he thinks to himself, "if only things were different". How do I translate this line when 'things' refer to 'basically everything bad that has ever happened' and is so vague and all-encompassing that even Bob doesn't know what specific things he's referring to?

I'll translate freely the entire given question into natural Japanese by replacing Bob with 恭一{きょういち}.

あらすじ:恭一{きょういち}は「あれ」が今日{きょう}起{お}きたことに憤慨{ふんがい}している。彼{かれ}の人生{じんせい}のいたるところで顔{かお}を出{だ}す「あれ」が、今日{きょう}という日{ひ}を台無{だいな}しにした。恭一{きょういち}は誰{だれ}にも言{い}えない憤懣{ふんまん}を吐{は}き出{だ}すように言{い}った。「あれさえなければ…」。 確{たし}かなことは「あれ」とは恭一{きょういち}にとって「これまでに起{お}きたあらゆる悪{わる}いことの全部{ぜんぶ}」を指{さ}しているということ。しかし、実際{じっさい}には、何{なに}を指{さ}して「あれ」と言{い}っているのか恭一{きょういち}自身{じしん}定{さだ}かでないほどそれは曖昧{あいまい}だがしかし一括{ひとくくり}りに出来{でき}そうでもある とき、"if only things were different"を日本語{にほんご}ではどういう風{ふう}に言{い}えるのだろうか。

The answer to "if only things were different" in the context is "あれさえなければ" and "things" in the phrase is "あれ".
I think "あれさえ違っていたら" couldn't express the nuance of "if only things were different" in this context.


EDIT

I know あれ means a pronoun indicating something distant from both speaker and listener (in space, time or psychologically), or something understood without naming it directly, but I used あれ for "things" in the given context.

I also know the "things" is said ​that even Bob doesn't know what specific things he's referring to. But the "things" is defined clearly as "basically everything bad that has ever happened" in the context. The definition means that not only today the "things" happened but also the "things" happend everytime when bad things happened to Bob.

From this fact, I understood that the "things" was clear to Bob or at least he could make what happened to him clear whether it belonged to the "things" or not, but he couldn't address it with a proper word just like the questioner couldn't because there was not any exact word to express this complicated concept.

The very good interpretations with 「状況が違ってさえいればなあ。」, 「こんなことに(さえ)ならなければなあ。」 or 「こんなこと(さえ)にならなかったらなあ。」for "If only things were different" by Chocolate couldn't cover "basically everything bad that has ever happened", so I darely invented あれ for the "things".

If you read my free translation in Japanese, I think you could understand the use of あれ is a somewhat good choice though it is not exactly correct because there is no exact word also in Japanese.

  • I think あれ is much more specific than OP intends to express. "あれさえなければ" sounds like "if that specific event hadn't happened / that specific condition wasn't the case". – Yosh Oct 5 '17 at 7:58
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    The demonstrative pronoun "あれ" has a definite reference -- which is to say, when you use "あれ" to refer to something, at least you have a clear idea of what you are referring to, only not by what specific name to refer to it, or you are avoiding mentioning the thing by name purposefully. In contrast, "things" indicates, in OP's words, "even Bob doesn't know what specific things he's referring to." – goldbrick Oct 5 '17 at 8:06
  • @Yosh and goldbrick: I edited my answer instead of answering your comment. – mackygoo Oct 5 '17 at 10:34
  • @mackygoo Now I get your point. Your answer is valid if Bob feels that the entire situation can be attributed to some single something (even if he doesn't know what it is exactly). I don't think it is implied by the wording of the OP. いろいろうまくいかない背景にあるあれやこれや全部ひっくるめて漠然と「違ったらなあ」とという雰囲気で,全部に共通するひとまとまりの「アレ」と感じてるのではないのでは. – Yosh Oct 6 '17 at 4:14
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    ^ さあ・・・私にはわかんないので、ここで質問投稿されてみてはどうでしょう。いろんな人の意見が聞けておもしろいかも?→ ell.stackexchange.com/questions – Chocolate Oct 7 '17 at 1:26

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