In Japanese, the sound effect we use to describe a hard object breaking is “bari bari”.

For instance, when you’re biting into a freshly-baked senbei (rice cracker) and it produces a satisfying crunch; or when your cat is sinking its claws yet again into your sofa to scratch the living daylights out of it. We can also use “bari bari” to talk about loud, rumbling noises like thunder, or even a superbike that’s zooming down the highway. 

Because of its crisp, brisk momentum, people who are enthusiastic about work are also described as “bari bari”. Like so: a “bari bari” career woman – it’s easy to imagine her walking around in a power suit, complete with high heels that make a perfect clickety-clack sound with every step. She’s a no-nonsense kind of woman, and she’s always ready to deliver beyond her employer’s expectations. 

I would often use this expression, but while writing this column, I did some research online and to my chagrin, found out that describing someone’s work ethics as “bari bari” is actually outdated! It turns out that nobody really uses it anymore nowadays…

Even though people around me still say it, I guess the phrase “bari bari hataraku” (working enthusiastically) will eventually become less popular, or even die off at some point in the future. 

Indeed, language is a living, breathing thing that can evolve over time. Don’t you think so?

Akiko Nishio is the principal of A to Z Language Centre, with over 20 years of experience in teaching Japanese. She has a soft spot for good books, travelling, and ice-cold beer.  


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