Itsu demo (いつでも）
The Japanese word “itsu demo” (いつでも) has two very distinct parts. Itsu (何時、いつ) is represented by kanji that literally read, “what time”. Dictionaries say “demo” means but or however, but that is not how it is applied here. Its true secrets lie deeper.
In truth, “demo” here is used like regardless, and in the following manner:
Itsu demo = regardless of when
A dictionary will give various and contradictory meanings for “itsudemo” because the usage changes with the context of the sentence. Think of it like one root and many branches. It’s easier than just deciding Japanese is an alien language hailing from Mars, which is what a lot of people do.
When “Demo” Is “Good”
Let’s try “demo” in another context: ima demo, which combines “ima” (“now”) with “demo”, and ii, which is a small word used for “good”. Combine them and we get:
ima demo ii (今でもいい).
Ignoring the “why” for the moment, this means: now is good.
Example: “When can I see you? We need to talk about the Ferrari.” “Now’s good.”
So our structure is like this:
[Question about time] -> “ima demo ii”
OK, so what about our main topic? It’s simple:
“When can I see you? We need to talk about the Ferrari.” “Anytime’s good.”
[Question about time] -> “itsu demo ii”
This is what I would call the normal usage.
Let’s imagine an executive from corporate headquarters is visiting a small manufacturing plant owned by the same company. In particular, he is concerned about a particular assembly line that has been having numerous and costly stoppages.
Executive: “What’s going on with that assembly line?”
Worker: “Oh, it’s the paint machine. It’s always breaking down, but they say there’s no budget for a new one.”
Executive: “I’ll be the judge of that. These stoppages are costing us a lot of money!”
Now, the worker isn’t using the word always in the sense of “constantly”. He’s using it to express a high frequency. If he said “constantly”, it might mean within five minutes of every start. If he said “regularly”, it might mean every two days. “Always” probably means something more random than that.
Let’s see one way this could appear in Japanese. (I’m not a native speaker, so this is for an example only.)
ペイントマシーンがいつでも壊せる. (Paint machine ga itsudemo kowaseru.)
Grammatical differences aside, what we can understand is that the paint machine is prone to break down anytime while it is in use.
In other words, even if a “translation” would turn “itsudemo” into “always”, the Japanese meaning never changed at all.
Without bothering with full bilingual examples, when police talk about being constantly prepared to serve the public, they use “itsudemo” too. You may be doing a double take. How can “itsudemo” not be “constantly” in the last example, but it is here?
The only problem is looking at it from a narrow English point of view. Anytime can mean “five weeks from now” or “five seconds from now”. The police are trying to express that if you are in trouble five seconds from now, they’ll be ready to help. That’s the public posture.
That’s all for today. I’ll be citing “itsudemo” in posts in the near future. You’ll see how it’s a very useful thing to know by heart.
いつでもコッメントしてよね。(itsudemo comment shite yo ne. = Comment anytime!) – J