Q. Why do Japanese husbands call their wives gusai (my foolish wife)?


Gu (foolish) is one of the humble forms used when the Japanese refer to themselves or to members of their family. Another humble form used is setsu meaning “bad” or “clumsy.” Sessha, a term used during the Edo period (1600– 1868) by the samurai to refer to themselves is derived from this form.

Although not often used nowadays, tonji and gusoku, with ton being the character for pig and gu being the character for foolish, both denote “my son.”

It is frequently pointed out by people of other countries, that the Japanese sometimes unnecessarily disparage themselves.

Non–Japanese do not resort to all–out praise when referring to themselves or to members of their family. Like the Japanese, discretion is used but not to the point of referring to the other as “foolish.”

Modesty is one of the virtues that forms the base of Japanese mentality. Being too haughty or too arrogant is frowned upon.

When talking to another, only through language such as “my foolish wife” can one lower the position of members of one’s family and at the same time show one’s modesty. But if a husband were to say this in this day and age, he would be thrown out of the house by his wife.