Fun’iki – Don’t Say “Atmosphere”

Fun’iki’s a great, useful word, referring to the tone, air, mood, or psychological climate something exudes. Anything and anyone can have a fun’iki. You likely have one and so does your pet gerbil. “Sparks,” if that’s his name. Now frequently, you will find the word translated in written works or the spewed language ventures of Hiroshi Q. Everyman, as “atmosphere”. This comes from the phrase, “I love that restaurant’s atmosphere–very ‘Jumanji.'” Restaurants, parks, birthday fun zones–in a word, places–have atmospheres. And this stands to reason; the actual atmosphere is a thing that encompasses a place. But observe this real-life example taken from my personal haven of linguistic enlightenment, coincidentally named Rosetta Stone even though it’s just a dive bar.

Me: “Hey Tomoko, I got this student at work who really reminds me of you.”

Tomoko: “Really? In what way? Is it the eyes?”

Me: (Not wanting to admit it’s probably the teeth) “Uhh, maybe!”

Tomoko: “Oh, or maybe it’s just her general fun’iki. Her. . . . what do you call that in English again? Her. . . atmosphere!”

Me: “Yeah, it’s probably her atmosphere. Full of hot air. Just kiddin’. Hey, next round’s on me. What is that, J├Ągermeister?”

Interesting. Of course, this story, like so many others, ends with a fist fight over semantics when one of the natives insists I call a mug a “jockey”. But do people really have “atmospheres”? Not traditionally, I realized later on, probably while sitting on the toilet. You never see two brahs shooting the breeze and being like, “Yeah, that chick’s cool, she’s got a really friendly atmosphere.” They’d say “vibe” or something. A different crowd might say something like “An air of warmth.” Others, still, might vaguely remark, “There’s something special about her.” Depending on the subject in question, any number of words or phrases may apply, with atmosphere merely being one of them, and with a fairly limited range of versatility at that. Just another example of the context sensitivity and need for liquid-like adaptability presented by translation. Forget about one-for-one.