Xero X asked in Society & CultureLanguages · 1 decade ago

Japanese - what does "tennnen" usually mean?

As usual, I found this word through Japanese TV shows - at first it was subbed as "airhead" (i.e. ignorant), but now I've seen it to mean "a natural at ~" (i.e. brilliant at). Is one of these wrong, or does it depend on context?


The context of the "a natural in ~" made it clear that it was that, and not any other meaning of "natural". The exact phrase was simply "てんねんだな" with the subs reading "A complete natural."

Could the "natural" from "てんねんだな" be more like "[his amazingness is] natural [as opposed to learned]"?

3 Answers

  • Lutlam
    Lv 7
    1 decade ago
    Favourite answer

    OK, there's a little explaining to do here.

    First off, the original meaning of "tennen" (天然 in kanji) is "natural", and the original form of "tennen" in question is: "天然ボケ ten'nen boke".

    To fully understand this term, you have to know what 漫才 manzai, Japanese-style stand-up comedy, is like. See:


    As the Wikipedia says, this style of comedy is typically performed by two people: "boke" (the funny man) and "tsukkomi" (the straight man). The boke keeps behaving funny, when the tsukkomi comes in to straighten the story, both working together to make the audience laugh.

    Airhead people act funny without meaning to, just like they're "natural-born boke", which is where "天然ボケ ten'nen boke" comes from. It's often shortened as "天然 ten'nen", which is what you heard.

    (If you know the TV show Friends, Joey and Phoebe are pretty much the model of good tennen.)

    Hope this makes sense.

    Source(s): I'm Japanese.
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  • David
    Lv 7
    1 decade ago

    Tennen (天然) means natural as in:


    This car runs on natural gas.


    Her hair is naturally curly.

    It can also mean "airhead" in colloquial form :)

    Edit note:

    I don't possibly see how you can get "brilliant" out of 天然. Think of 天然 as meaning the opposite of artificial. You could maybe stretch it to mean someone is wise (naturally smart) rather then knowledgable (book smart) if you used it as a の-adjective to modify something like 識者 (intelligent person) I suppose. But tennen (天然) in and of itself has no meaning of brilliant, smart, anything like that.

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