“Baka” is a Japanese swear word and one of the most famous Japanese words – no wonder there is a saying that curse words are the first step to learning a Foreign Language ; )
You might have already heard of “baka” many times through animes, movies, or trending TikTok videos using the catch phrase “sussy baka”. But what does “baka” actually mean? Is it a bad word? How do Japanese people use it? If these questions are lingering in the back of your mind, please don’t skip this article. After our introduction to the term, we will give you a lot of fun facts about it!
If you just want a short version, baka is a Japanese curse word that means idiot, moron, stupid, dumb, etc. It’s an offensive term that should be used very carefully and avoided in formal situations. Sometimes baka can also be a sign of intimacy. Here are 4 common uses baka:
- Make fun of very close friends
- Regret or blame something that someone did
- Look down on or insult someone
- In romantic relationships
Want to dig deeper? Here is a complete explanation. If you wish to learn more Japanese words, LingoDeer is the best place to start!
What does baka mean
According to the weblio dictionary, baka means “idiot,” “fool,” “moron” (noun), or “stupid,” “dumb,” “obtuse,” “dull” (adjective). Its Kanji form is “馬鹿” and kana forms are “ばか” and “バカ.” Generally, the word baka is used to describe someone who lacks common sense or has done something foolish. So please use it carefully and avoid using this word in formal situations.
How to pronounce baka in Japanese? Listen to the audio below ⬇️
It’s easy to learn the definition of a foreign word with the high accessibility of dictionaries and translation services in the internet era. However, learning a foreign word’s specific contextual meanings will still take time, especially for slang such as “baka” that has many subtle nuances.
Baka can be a curse word, ridicule, criticism, insult, offensive term, or even a sign of intimacy. The below compilation presents different scenarios to showcase its various usages. Without further ado, let’s get started!
How to use baka
As mentioned above, “baka” can sound totally different depending on the conversation and context. It also depends on who you are talking to and in which tone. In general, please avoid using it in the following situations:
To your boss, teacher, elders, or anyone else you respect.
To strangers, acquaintances, or people you just met.
On a formal occasion or in public, even though it’s to your close friend.
When you are unsure what it means.
To people who are from the Kansai region
You may be wondering why the last one is included. Well, baka can sound more or less insulting depending on the region you’re in. As for Kansai, “baka” tends to be a much stronger insult. Instead, Kansai people use another word, “ahō” (阿呆), far more often. You can think of it as the Kansai version of “baka.”
Just like English, Japanese has many dialects. The meanings of many words and expressions in Japanese can change according to region. That’s why you should be careful using curse words like “baka” to joke around if you don’t have a comprehensive understanding of the term.
In the following sections, some scenes will be given which contain several typical uses of “baka.” Please try to compare their nuances depending on different contexts.
Use baka when making fun of close friends
In the following conversation, Shun and Nosuke are good friends. Shun told Nosuke he was reading a UFO-related book. However, Nosuke doesn’t believe in UFOs, so he thought reading a book like this was stupid. “Baka” doesn’t hurt because they are used to talking to each other in such a playfully rude way.
Shun: I’m reading a book called Introduction to Ufology.
Nosuke: Isn’t it stupid to read this kind of book?
Shun: It’s not stupid. It’s interesting!
Use baka to look down on or insult someone
Shizuka and Tarō are classmates. Tarō has a crush on Shizuka. One day, a basketball tournament was held at the school. Students gathered in the gymnasium to watch the game. Shizuka, the girl, is cheering for a player named Yamamoto. Unfortunately, Tarō heard it, got jealous, and muttered that Yamamoto was a “bakayaro.”
Shizuka: Yamamoto-senpai is so cool!
Tarō: That guy is a stupid jerk.
“Bakayarō” is a commonly used compound word that combines “baka” and “yarō” (野郎). “Yarō” is also a highly context-dependent word. It means “man” or “dude” when being used among male friends to mock each other. However, it turns to “jerk” or “dumbass” if you are meaning to offend someone.
Additionally, Japanese people sometimes put “大(おお)” before “馬鹿” to emphasize the degree of foolishness at hand — e.g. 大馬鹿, 大馬鹿野郎, and 大バカ者.
Let’s see another dialogue with the most common use of baka.
Honda: (You) only got 30 points? You’re so stupid!
Use baka to regret or blame something that someone did
The boss criticized his employee for doing a bad thing.
Boss: Are you stupid? (How come you) did that?!
Subordinate: I sincerely apologize for doing a foolish thing.
Use baka in romantic relationships
Baka can also be used by couples and lovers. You may have noticed this in Japanese romantic dramas or anime. In the below dialogue, Kanna and Osu are lovers and they have broken up for a month after an argument. On a rainy night, Osu, the boy, shows up at Kanna’s doorstep with a homemade cake.
Osu: Please try this.
Kanna: You dummy…
Baka’s other usages
Now that we’ve seen the essential usages of “baka,” let’s take it a step further. “Baka” can also be used as a prefix for adjectives and nouns to indicate excessiveness, which is similar to “very” or “super.”
馬鹿正直 – be honest to a fault
馬鹿に寒い – ridiculously cold
Another frequently seen meaning of it is “useless” or “broken.”
蛇口が馬鹿になった – The faucet has broken
味覚が馬鹿になる – to experience loss of taste
Sometimes, “baka” refers to someone who is indulgent in something but doesn’t see its faults or disadvantages.
親馬鹿 – doting parent
It can also be used to describe someone who is very good at and fascinated with a subject but doesn’t care about or lacks basic knowledge of others.
音楽馬鹿 – someone who is crazy about music
Baka’s history and origin
At this point, I believe you have become a master in “baka” now ; ) In this section, I would like to introduce the two most significant theories about the origins of “baka.”
A Chinese idiom 指鹿為馬
The most widely accepted theory about “baka’s” origin is that this word was derived from a Classical Chinese idiom, 指鹿為馬. Before reading the history behind the idiom, please note that it contains the two Kanji that make up the word “baka”, “鹿” and “馬” — respectively meaning “deer” and “horse” in both Chinese and Japanese. Furthermore, the literal meaning of the idiom, 指鹿為馬, is “pointing at a deer and saying it’s a horse.” Am I kidding? No.
Once there was an emperor of China called Hu Hai, who was the son of Qin Shi Huang (259-210 BC). Hu Hai was too young to be a sovereign in power, which meant that the country was actually controlled by the prime minister, Zhao Gao. This evil vassal eventually had the idea of replacing Hu Hai on the throne. To carry out such a vast conspiracy, Zhao first needed to know he or the emperor had more respect from the officials in the court.
One day, Zhao presented a deer to the emperor and said it was a rare breed of horse. Hu Hai, the emperor, asked doubtfully, “Isn’t that a deer?” Zhao insisted it was a horse as he observed the officials’ reactions. Some officials were more outspoken and said it was a deer, while some, out of fear of Zhao, chimed in and said it was a horse. After that day, Zhao assassinated those who referred to it as a deer.
Now you can probably understand why this Chinese idiom, 指鹿為馬, refers to deliberate misrepresentation. As I mentioned above, this is the most widely accepted theory about the origin of the Japanese word “baka” (馬鹿), even if it doesn’t mean exactly the same thing as the idiom.
Baka is a loanword from Sanskrit
Another well-known theory argues that the word “baka” is a loanword from Sanskrit. Sanskrit is the sacred language of Hinduism and is also used to transcribe Buddhist classics.
A Sanskrit word, Moha (मोह), is considered by many linguists to be the origin of the word “baka.” It means bewilderment, loss of consciousness, delusion, or folly. This claim seems to make more sense in terms of meaning than the previous one.
Other Japanese swear words
At this point, we have nailed down “baka,” but now I’d like to introduce you to several otherJapanese curse words and pejoratives. I have to say that Japanese is not a rich language in terms of profanity, especially compared with English and Chinese. Still, there are some quality insults out there for us to dig into.
|3||ちくしょう||chikushō||畜生||beast; damn it|
|11||さいてい||saitei||最低||the worst; b*tch|
|15||しね||shine||死ね||go to hell; drop dead|
|18||くうきがよめない||kuuki ga yomenai||空気が読めない||(someone) can’t read the room|
|19||くたばれ||kutabare||/||go to hell|
|28||ちび||chibi||/||small fry; pipsqueak; dwarf|
|31||きえろ||kiero||消えろ||f**k off; get lost|