I was watching the animated film by Hayao Miyazaki named "Spirited Away" in Japanese (I'm still a beginner) and I noticed that Yubaba and Zeniba use "お前" as second person singular. As far as I know it is used by male speakers and it's not very polite. So why do they use it? Do they speak in an old fashion in which "お前" is normal?

I also noticed that they say "あたし", isn't that used by younger woman? Or is it some kind of irony?

  • 1
    There's a certain way of using あたし (In fiction I mean) that I actually more strongly associate with older female speakers
    – Angelos
    Apr 3, 2023 at 22:03
  • 1
    お前 is impolite in the modern Japanese, and I believe you guessed right about the old fashion. In older Japanese, until early Edo era, it was actually honorific. So the baba might not mean to be impolite. There is a trace as in 御前 (みまえ、おんまえ). Same thing for 貴様 (きさま). Apr 3, 2023 at 22:25

1 Answer 1


"お前" is not very polite as you understand, but not necessarily gender-specific. A mother can say to her child "お前も大人になった" (You've grown up). "お前" sounds sometimes authoritative (like Yubaba) and sometimes very friendly (like Zeniba) according to contexts and tones, even in these days. You have a good reason to get misguided that the word is for males because guys who love authority speak loud.

"あたし" is not age-specific. Old ladies say "あたしもよ!" (Me too!) during friendly conversations. I guess Miyazaki just wanted to characterize the twin as frank persons with no intention of irony.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .