A very popular slang that we hear in Japan is yabai [やばい]. This word can mean something good or bad depending on the use and context, which causes great confusion and curiosity among Japanese students. In this article, we will understand a little of the meaning of that word and see some example sentences.
First the word yabai [やばい] means something dangerous, inconvenient, risky and terrible, that is, an adjective that shows that something bad happens. The problem is that the same word is slang used to indicate something great, surprising and cool. But how can a word also mean the opposite of it?
Is Yabai something good or bad?
It is difficult to understand how the word yabai [やばい] ended up gaining that opposite meaning. Throughout the history of different languages, young people end up inventing slang that gain meaning, or are used in moments that are nothing to do.
In Portuguese, for example, we have the slang “mass” or “that crazy”, if we stop to think there is no sense in using these words to refer to something interesting, since their original meanings are quite different.
Similarly yabai [やばい] is used in a way that cannot express a logical meaning, and that can be used on different occasions to show that you are impressed or surprised.
The word yabai it can be understood by context, just like most Japanese words that if heard in isolation can cause confusion. It makes as much sense as cursing the friends we love from moron and dumb and call strangers Bro and plate.
Yabai slang used by young people
Before we understand more about the meaning of that word, we must understand where it is embedded. Yabai is a slang known as wakamonokotoba [若者言葉] which literally means words of youth.
Are slang used mainly by teenagers around 20 years old, rarely used in other generations or who have a totally different meaning. Yabai it has been used by young people with different senses since the 2000s.
Its original meaning is dangerous and unexpected, but in time people started using it to make positive evaluations. Summing up, yabai means it is not good, but over time it started to mean “I was surprised and shocked unexpectedly“.
History and origin of the word Yabai
It is not clear how this word started to be used, but its origin probably comes from the Edo Period, where jargon yaba it was used by thieves to refer to guards. So whenever I saw a guard (a dangerous situation) that word was used.
Others also say that Yaba in the Kanto dialect refers to the shooting range used by Matoya during the Edo period. The word also referred to a place of prostitution, becoming a secret word for a dangerous place and a dangerous situation.
Others claim that the slang is derived from the word “ayabui“, Which means“ dangerous ”. Others say that its origin comes from the expression “ya abunai”Which also means dangerous. Even with its uncertain origin, its initial meaning has always been a bad thing.
In the 80's, young people used this word constantly to say that something was not cool, but only in the 90's did young people start to invert its meaning to something good, cute, delicious, cool and incredible.
It has nothing to do, but yabai [野梅] can also refer to a wild Japanese plum or apricot.
Different ways to use Yabai
You just ate something delicious and you can say: "Kore Yabai!", so you are saying that this is tasty. Be careful with the tone of voice, manner and occasion when saying kore yabai, because it can also mean "this is terrible".
You can use the expression “Kare, Majide Yabai!”To say that a man is handsome. The word majide means seriously that it can give the meaning of really and so. That is, he is so beautiful. Remembering that both man and woman can use this expression yabai, but beware that it may sound a little rude.
Others when they are late for some place usually say to themselves the expression yabai yabai… Concerned about the rush to get to the agreed place soon. It was like he was saying to himself "I need to hurry“.
Yabee, Yabei, Yabasu and Majiyabasu
please note that yabai has different variations such as:
- Yabee [やべー]
- Yabee [やばっ]
- Yabee [ヤベえ]
- Yabei [やべい]
- Yabasu [やばす]
- Majiyabasu [まじやばす]
The use of these slang terms varies by region, phrase and occasion.
Examples of using Yabai
Some young people use this word as "very" so it can indicate that something is very good or bad. See the example below:
Ikko sen'en no kukkī nante yabai takai yo ne?
A 1000 yen cookie is very expensive, don't you think?
Below we will see some more phrases of occasions that we use yabai:
Ashita in the yaba-sōda treasure.
It is likely that tomorrow I will fail the test.
Yabai! Kadai the teishutsu shi wasureta!
Shit! I forgot to do my homework.
Keisatsu wa yabai shigotodesu.
Being a police officer is dangerous.
Yabai! Love futtekita!"
Shit! Began to rain!"
Yabai Desu Ne Meme
Pecorine or Eustiana von Astraea is a character from Anime and Princess Connect Re: Dive. She is the master of the 'Gourmet Building' guild. This character became a meme because of its endings in sentences saying yabai desu ne.
This is something similar to dattebayo that Naruto talks about. In the official English subtitles they translated it to “How Crazy is that?" something like "How crazy is that?“. Of course, this translation in my opinion doesn't make much sense, it just wants to emphasize your sentences.
Videos about Yabai
Our friend Sarah made a video explaining this subject. If you have anything to add on this subject, leave your comments below.