|Kanji for June 6, 2005 - First Person Pronoun Series #2
||[Jun. 6th, 2005|09:42 am]
Kanji of the Day
I (masculine); manservant
家僕 = kaboku - houseboy
忠僕 = chuuboku - faithful servant
僕 (also 下部) = shimobe - manservant
Not to be confused with:
撲 = BOKU - to strike
業 = GYOU - business
Boku is a semi-formal first-person pronoun that's typically used by males. For the most part, it's used by younger boys before they grow up and get all manly, at which point they usually switch over to ore (tomorrow's kanji). Girls also use this, on rare occasion, if they want to seem tomboyish. However, it's also used by men in situations where watashi would feel too formal and stuffy (and where ore would be too crass). This tends to be the pronoun I use for myself in about 98% of situations (perhaps I just don't feel overly manly).
In reality, this pronoun isn't used all that commonly, appearing in manga and anime far more often than it does in real life (just another point of note for people to not take Japanese entertainment as gospel). Of course, this doesn't mean that you can't or shouldn't use it, and if you're a foreigner, it could actually improve your image (not using watashi might suggest that you don't just parrot your Japanese out of a dictionary). If you can speak the language at at least an intermediate or proficient level, and you think you have a good grasp of politeness levels inherent in Japanese speech and social situations, you can probably safely use this to refer to yourself (although again, beginners are strongly advised to just stick with watashi).
Another interesting note is that, despite the masculine (or at least boyish) tone of boku, it is actually used very frequently in songs sung by female Japanese vocalists; it's actually used more often than watashi and atashi, which are the most typical female pronouns (crack open your Hamasaki Ayumi and Yaida Hitomi CDs and give a listen).
As you can see from the compounds above, the original meaning of this kanji was 'manservant,' and is still used in some compounds today (I believe that this is the Chinese usage of the character, but if someone could confirm/deny that, that would be helpful). There's sort of a trend in Japanese language in culture to always find some new way to berate oneself in the name of propriety, and so a term like 'humble servant' was seen as a natural choice for a self-referential namesake (for you Japanese history buffs, boku entered common use as a first-person pronoun during the Bakumatsu).