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Recently, in a conversation with my Japanese tutor (a native Japanese speaker) I brought up the word 美しい in regards to praising people and its usage in day to day language. She mentioned to me that it is not really a word used in normal conversation, as it was rather outdated and a bit too over the top, which would make some people think you're joking. Other such related terms like 美貌 or 美顔 are also not used frequently either.

She told to me that キレイ(綺麗)is a much better choice and can even be seen as the highest level of praise in regards to beauty.

While I've certainly heard this argument before from online discussions and other native Japanese speakers, it still confuses me a bit because I still hear native Japanese speakers use 美しい when praising people.

Some phrases I heard recently are:

今日も朝から美しいね。

食べる姿は美しい。

Is this a generational thing? Is the current generation simply bringing back an old word? Or am I simply overthinking the problem?

Any insight you can offer me would be greatly appreciated.

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    I wonder what types of native speakers you are surrounded by. I just could not imagine one of my countrymen saying 「今日も朝から美しいね。」 in real life regardless of his age. – l'électeur Oct 11 '17 at 14:56
  • @l'électeur Well, most of the native speakers I encounter are online, which I suppose may discredit their validity a bit. Recently most of my interaction with native speakers is via chatstreams or in the comment section of live broadcasts. – www Oct 11 '17 at 15:01
  • @l'électeur Also, this particular comment「今日も朝から美しいね。」was in during the live broadcast of a voice actress and came from a fan. – www Oct 11 '17 at 15:07
  • Related: japanese.stackexchange.com/q/18929/5010 – naruto Oct 11 '17 at 16:42
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「美しい」という言葉の使い方は、少なくとも現代においては世代間の差異はありません。この言葉は文学的過ぎるので、書き言葉で使われても日常会話で使われることは少ないです。もし日常会話で使った場合には、ふざけているか非常に気取った態度ととられるでしょう。特に音楽や美術作品等に対してではなく目の前の人に対して使った場合には。

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I can see your tutor's point, but I think they overstated it a bit. 美しい might not be as popular a term as キレイ, but there are still plenty of people who use it. Also, I'm guessing your tutor is older than 30. As far as I can tell, most young Japanese girls these days would prefer to be called かわいい or 美人 than any of those other terms.

It also raises the question of how to compliment men's looks. Probably most guys would like to be called かっこいい or イケメン instead of alternative terms like ハンサム、男前 or 美男.

Basically, words go in and out of fashion all the time. Right now, 美しい might be somewhat out of vogue, but I think it's going too far to say it's outdated or over the top.

  • You are right about my tutor's age. Which is why it made me wonder if this was simply a trend/generational issue. – www Oct 11 '17 at 15:03
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I think the word 美しい is refined, decorous and sophisticated rather than outdated, so it may not be often used in daily conversation.

Of course, there would be some people who use it, in particular, gentle and refined people.

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