696 - だけまし
JLPT N2: だけまし (at least)
You know the word まし？
It means something like "better" or "less undesirable."
For example, you might see a sentence like this on your JLPT N2 test:
これ を たべる くらい なら、 しんだ ほう が まし だ。
I’d rather die than eat this.
Literally: “this + を + eat + rather than (=くらいなら), + died + way / direction + が + better / less undesirable + だ.”
くらいなら is actually a JLPT N2 grammar point. But we've already studied that one: [NDL #318] - JLPT N2: くらいなら.
Speaking of the JLPT, and Japanese tests and textbooks in general, they don't always use Japanese the way that people use it in daily life.
For example, if a person were to say the above sentence, it would be common for them to drop the を. And they would be very unlikely to include that final だ at the end:
これ たべる くらい なら、 しんだ ほう が まし。
I’d rather die than eat this.
Literally: “this + eat + rather than (=くらいなら), + died + way / direction + が + better / less undesirable.”
If eating the food in question has already been established as the topic of the sentence, a person might even just say:
しんだ ほう が まし。
I’d rather die.
Literally: “died + way / direction + が + better / less undesirable.”
Sometimes it feels like "natural Japanese" just means "simpler Japanese," yeah?
Anyway, let's get back to business: だけまし.
だけまし means something like "at least."
We already established what まし means.
As for だけ... I have no idea.
Sometimes だけ can mean "only." And other times it's similar to words that express the extent or amount of something, like ほど、くらい、and so on.
I'm not sure if it's the meaning of "only," "extent/amount," or something else entirely, but 「だけ＋まし」＝ "at least."
ひろき に ティーシャツ を かしたら、 ボロボロ に なって かえって きた よ。
I lent Hiroki my shirt, and it was all torn up when he gave it back to me.
Literally: “Hiroki + に + T-shirt + を + when (I) lent, + tattered / falling apart + に + become (and) + return (and) + came + よ.”
かえして くれた だけまし だ よ。 おれ は ひろき に いろんな もの かりパク されてる よ。
At least you got it back. I’ve had Hiroki borrow a bunch of things that he’s never returned to me.
Literally: “give (it) back (and) + gave (you) + at least (だけまし) + だ + よ. + I (masc.) + は + Hiroki + に + various + things + borrowing (something) and never returning (it) + am having done (to me) + よ.”
Note: 借りパク is slang. 借りる (かりる // to borrow) + パクる (to steal) = 借りパク (かりパク // borrowing [something] and never returning [it]).
What do you think? Does the use of だけまし in the above sentence make sense?
How about another example...
あきす に はいられて かねめ の もの は すべて とられた。 でも、 かぞく が ぶじな だけまし だ と おもおう。
Burglars broke into my house and stole everything of value. But I should just be glad that my family’s OK.
Literally: “burglar (=empty + nest) + に + is entered (and) + monetary value + の + thing + は + all / everything + was stolen. + however, + family + が + safe / unharmed + at least (=だけまし) + だ + と + let's think.”
👷 Construction 👷
Nothing too complicated here:
Plain-Form Word ＋ だけまし
In this lesson specifically, you'll see:
Plain-Form VERB ＋ だけまし
na-adjective な ＋ だけまし
na-adjectve / NOUN ＋ である ＋ だけまし
Oh, and I should mention that this grammar can be used in spoken Japanese.
One of my grammar books says it's "slightly colloquial." But I'm never too quick to trust what books say about Japanese these days.
I asked Rei, and she said that it is indeed fairly commonly used in speech.
じじょ は もう なんねん も ニート だ が、 ギャンブル や はんざい に てをそめていない だけまし だ。
My second daughter has been unemployed for years, but at least she’s not into gambling or crime.
Literally: “second daughter + は + already + how many years + も + NEET (a young person Not in Education, Employment, or Training) + だ + が (=but), + gambling + や + crime + に + is not involved with / does not have a hand in (=hand + を + is not dyeing) + at least (=だけまし) + だ.”
This was my first time seeing the phrase 手を染める (てをそめる // to get involved in; to have a hand in). I thought it was pretty cool that it literally means "to dye your hands."
In other news, I'm a bit jealous of NEET's. Just mooching off your family sounds like it could be pretty chill, especially if they lived somewhere like Tokyo. I'd just be studying languages and going for walks all day. The dream life!
But you know what they say: "grow up," "contribute to society," "sacrifice your soul to Muhlah, Demon Lord of Money."
By the way, don't confuse ニート with フリーター. A "freeter" does casual, non-career work. But a NEET doesn't work at all. ニート has a pretty negative connotation. In extreme cases, it can refer to a young adult that hardly ever leaves their house, has no friends, etc. in addition to not working. We talked about フリーター wayyyyyyyyy back in this lesson: [NDL #19] - The 40-Hour Part-Time Job.
かれ は ほとんど やすみ が ない そうだ。 わたし の かいしゃ は すくなくとも まい しゅうまつ と ねんまつねんし が やすみ である だけまし かもしれない。
Apparently he almost never has days off. Maybe my company’s better. At the very least, we get to take off weekends and New Year’s holidays.
Literally: “he + は + mostly / almost (no) + holiday / day off + が + doesn’t have + そうだ (=[hearsay marker]). + I + の + company + は + at (the very) least + every weekend + と + New Year’s holiday (=end and beginning of year) + は + holiday / day off + である + at least (=だけまし) + maybe.”
Another poor human enslaved by Muhlah.
What a shame...