美化語 is the embellishment of words. 美化 means “beautification”. 美化語, at its basic understanding, is making one’s speech sound more refined. 美化語 elevates one’s speech to a well-mannered style. Grammatically, it is neither 丁寧語 “polite speech” nor 敬語. However, it applies to 敬語 but is usually classified as 丁寧語. Several 美化語 phrases have come from traditional women’s speech.
The honorific お- is generally added to words regardless of origin. Even foreign loanwords such as ズボン are used with お- in 美化語. Words like 勉強 can either be seen with お- or ご-. This is sure to cause more confusion. For most words, though, the general お- and ご- distinctions are maintained.
お- VS ご-
お- is used with native words and 和製語 (Sino-Japanese words made in Japan such as telephone). ご- is used only with Sino-Japanese words not used with お-. み-, おみ-, and おんみ- are used in words with religious or imperial importance.
When an honorific prefix is used, it may greatly alter the word.
|汁（しる）⇒お汁（つゆ）||Soup; broth; dipping sauce*|
*: This definition is specific to お汁.
Note: Other forms of 美化語 include anything that euphemizes a phrase. Another word for this is 雅語. Since they are hard to pinpoint, they will not be discussed. Dictionaries will label 雅語 with 雅.
The Relationship between 美化語 and 丁寧語
丁寧語 utilizes more polite nouns rather than honorific prefixes. In women’s speech, however, honorific prefixes are commonly attached to everyday words. In more respectful language, this gender restriction disappears and sentence patterns conform.
Please drink water.
I think that it best not to eat meat.
In order to receive your (honorable) cooperation (敬語)
If you overuse 美化語, you may sound sarcastic and pretentious. Some words like おトイレ, おコーヒー, おタバコ may be seen in other settings and in the speech of older women. No single description can make a good generalization of when and when not to do this.
It is rare to see loan words take honorifics, but when they do they normally take お-, but some like おビール and おソース are more common. Also, it is imperative to use these suffixes in reference to things during tea ceremonies.
美化語 from Women’s Speech
Lots of words with お- used to only be used by women but are now used by everyone.
|おかか||Finely chopped katsuobushi.||お欠き||Thin, dried, baked mochi|
|お菜（かず）||Side dish||おから||Tofu residue|
|お強（こわ）||Glutinous rice steamed with red beans||おじや||Rice gruel|
|お萩（はぎ）||Rice ball coated with red beans||おまる||Potty|
The Necessity of 美化語
Some words are almost always accompanied with honorific prefixes while some are always used with them. To find out whether a noun has to have an honorific prefix, you should first see if a word can be looked up in a dictionary without the prefix. If a word is 美化語-sensitive, most dictionaries will tell you.
|Definition||Word||仮名||美化語||Always or Usually?|
*: This word must have お- so it can be read as おなか.
The hot water comes out with this boiler.
It sounds like ghosts appear in that old castle.
To give a compliment.
I didn’t receive that notice.
Osechi (a food served during New Year’s)
Mind your own business.
My stomach hurts.
To receive a blow in the stomach.
You must run the (hot) water off after taking a bath.
美化語 and Change of Meaning
At times when an honorific prefix is attached to a word there is a change in meaning. There is usually always a reasonable relationship between the two.
|Meaning without お||Meaning with お|
|To squeeze||絞る||Hand towel||お絞り|
Word Note: お絞り is an example of where an honorific prefix is added to 連用形 of a verb to refer to an object in relationship to the verb.
To have eight things.
Did you bring a snack?
Are bananas in the snacks?
Culture Note: This is a cliche question that came about from a period when most schools did not allow snacks on field trips, and if they did, there was a 300 yen budget.
I like to go fishing.
Keep the change.
18b. 彼女は偉ぶっている。（More natural)
18c. 彼女は偉そうに振舞っている。（More natural)
She acts like the boss.
Is your husband all right?