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Don't Eat With Your Mouth Full

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steepholm steepholm
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Japanese Diary 39: Having Something Stolen
To learn Japanese (or any language) is also, of course, to learn one's own. I think this was first borne in on me at primary school, when I realised that "new" could be translated as "neuf" or "nouveau" depending on whether it was "brand new" or "new to me." A bit later, the difference between "aber" and "sondern" in German made me look at "but" in a whole new way (it's the difference between "I'm tired but happy" and "I'm not tired but happy").

And, of course, I've had many similar experiences in Japanese, for example with distinctions that don't exist in English ("watasu" versus "tsutaeru" for "convey," depending on whether the object is a thing or a message, for an example that came up very recently), or indeed ones that don't exist in Japanese ("ashi" means both "leg" and "foot," to take one of the more mind-blowing ones).

Today my friend Mami was telling me how someone had stolen her friend's bag when she was travelling. I can't remember what she said, but it was slightly off, grammatically, and I corrected it to "Your friend had her bag stolen."

This confused her, as well it might, since the construction looks exactly like the one we use when we purposely arrange for someone to do something for us, e.g. "I had my kitchen rewired." I'd never noticed the similarity before. Indeed, it only works when referring to the subject's own property: "I had your bag stolen" sounds as if it's spoken by a criminal mastermind.

Are there are any other verbs that allow a similar construction to "I had my bag stolen" (i.e. someone stole my bag)? I can't think of any right now.

Seems to be it's not the verb, it's the passive construction that is the important distinction here. ("Had her bag stolen/bag was stolen") Passive in these situations not only makes it clear not only that the subject who stole the bag wasn't known, but also she would not have agreed. Same with, "Her house was burned down," "He was fired from his position--" even if we knew who his boss was who did the firing.

But you wouldn't say "He had his house burned down." (Or would you?)

No, but I wouldn't say 'she had her purse stolen' either. I'd use 'was'. I thought this might be a UK/USAn usage thing, though of course I could be 100% wrong. Not the first time.

It may well be. The more I look at that phrase the weirder it seems, but I'm pretty sure it's normal (UK) English. Perhaps someone else will confirm or deny.

Oh, I've heard it, and more often read it. Just don't use it, or hear it around me, except in the active sense. ("She had her hair done a different color/She had a lawyer look at the contract.")

Frequent enough is "I've had my whole life taken away from me" - honestly, it's very often said by, or ascribed by news sources to, people who have been through major traumas of one kind or another. Very close to "had [thing] stolen", of course.

Possibly it's a dialect thing, but I would say the following, all of which would mean more or less the same to me.

"I had my bag stolen."
"My bag was stolen."
"Someone stole my bag."

But it doesn't always work. "I had my leg broken," just wouldn't be right Similarly, "My leg was broken," is a bit odd on it's own, though does work if you say something like, "My leg was broken in two places when the tree fell on it."

For other verbs, "taken" also works. "I had my temperature/photo/camera taken."

But, as I said above, possibly it's a dialect thing because to me a construction such as, "He had his house broken into while he was away," doesn't sound wrong to me, though it's obviously colloquial. (Googling the phrase shows that it's not common, but can be found in newspaper articles and it's possibly a northern or midlands thing.)

Though having said it doesn't sound wrong, I'm now starting to doubt myself because I've run the phrase through my head too many times! Words are starting to lose their meaning, like when you say "teapot" too often and it turns into merely an odd sound.

I had my photo taken.
I had my camera taken.

Those two examples are really helpful in showing the importance of context to understanding. I think the "default" reading of the first would be, "I asked/told someone to photograph me," and the second, "Someone stole my camera." But of course, it's possible that they mean "Someone stole my photograph" and "I arranged for someone to transport my camera."

Agreed about everything looking wrong after a while!