Friday September 10, 2004

Don't Touch My Moustache!

Earlier today, The Wife was half-watching Toy Story 2 on TV upstairs, and I caught a few minutes of it as I was passing through the room. [Warning: minor spoilers ahead.] At one point, Al, the toy-collector-slash-antagonist, is finishing up a phone conversation with somebody in Japan to whom he has just sold our hero Woody. Al's very excited and says, before he hangs up, "Don't touch my moustache!"

Get it?

"Don't touch my moustache" is a pretty good approximation of the Japanese phrase for "You're welcome":

dou itashimashite

I've never heard this English phrase used to approximate that Japanese phrase before. Has anyone ever run across it? I didn't pick up on it the first time I saw the movie—there's no explanation given, but that just makes me feel all the more like I'm in on a secret Pixar joke, and now you are too. Shh! Let's all agree not to spread it around and just chuckle quietly to ourselves and grin mysteriously whenever we see that scene.

[Now playing: "Kagaku Ninjatai Gatchaman" by Animetal. 地球は一つ! 地球は一つ!]

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Alas, I heard "don't touch my mustache" as a mnemonic for "doo itasimasite" about 25 years ago in a Japanese restaurant whose proprietor knew I was interested in languages. She used to join us at the table and teach us snippets, and she knew the mnemonic.

Posted by: ACW at Sep 13, 2004 7:29:22 AM

Yes! I learned this when I was about 10, I think (oh, crud, that was about 25 years ago). It was in the same article/book/thingy in which I learned that "donkey field mouse" was the way to say "thank you very much" in the German of Vienna.

Posted by: speedwell at Sep 14, 2004 12:06:37 PM

There is another famous instance of this, meant to sound like "what time is it now?" It goes 掘った芋いじるな! (hotta imo ijiru na, 'Don't mess with dug-up potatos!').

Posted by: at Sep 15, 2004 12:06:00 AM

It was common currency in Japan over 40 years ago, and almost certainly well before that -- if I remember, I'll ask my father, who got there in 1949. I wouldn't be a bit surprised if it got started about five minutes after Commodore Perry landed.

Posted by: language hat at Sep 15, 2004 1:57:04 AM

Saying "掘った芋いじるな" for "what time is it now" is interesting, because it's an example of the same kind of nonsense-phrase-for-rhyming-foreign-phrase, except going in the other direction—Japanese to English. It's kind of like when you get to hear a speaker of a foreign language immitate your accent.

Posted by: The Tensor at Sep 15, 2004 11:40:47 PM

My high school Japanese teacher (12 years ago) taught us "Don't touch my moustache" for fun. I still remember it, and the real Japanese phrase so it must be good for something.

Posted by: Matt at Sep 24, 2004 8:26:38 AM

掘った芋いじるな has an interesting pedigree too.
It's from a textbook for learning English written by John Manjiro, a Japanese fisherman who was rescued by an American whaling ship in 1841.

Posted by: Big Ben at Sep 28, 2004 6:39:26 PM

"Don't touch my moustache" as an approximation for "you're welcome" is part of the dialog in a charming movie entitled "A Majority of One." The movie (1962) starred Alec Guiness and Rosalind Russell.

Posted by: ray parsons at Sep 26, 2005 6:53:52 PM

Thank you...this was the first hit on the internet. I finally decided after 10 yrs to look up this phrase and see if there was any Toy Story II reference...thanks.. I KNEW it had to be a mneumonic for something because Pixar did the same thing in Monsters Inc when creatures entered the sushi restaurant. Everyone shouted Get a paper bag! which sounds just like how you are greeted when you enter a sushi bar. "irasshaimase!" (pronounced ee-rah-shai-mah-seh" Yes, Pixar is having fun as usual.

Posted by: shelley at Jan 1, 2006 6:15:22 PM

My 10 year old half Japanese step-sister told me she made that one up! The real joke is though that people in Japan almost never say "dou itashimashite." Noticing this made me realize that English speakers rarely say "your welcome" that often either, my own knee-jerk reaction is to say "no problem."

Posted by: Sophie at Mar 13, 2006 5:30:25 AM

My dad and uncle are 1/2 Japanese, they've both know some cude Japanese. Mostly greating and curse words. They would always say "don't tuch my mustashe" in place of your welcome in everyday use. No one knew why it was funny. When I first saw Toy Story 2 I LMAO. I called my sister and cusin, they LTAO. We wondered if anyone else would think that was funny....

Posted by: jason at Sep 8, 2008 8:30:52 AM

I arrived in Japan in July, 1950, preparatory to taking part in the Korean War. The phrase "Don't touch my moustasche" for "do-itashimashte" was common among US service personnel in Japan at that time. It was also used in Korea, but in a different way. In 1952 when I returned stateside to finish college I had a cute little Korean girlgfriend, an exchange student, who told me the phrase was used by Korean girls who knew Japanese from grade school and had since learned English. She said "Don't touch my moustasche" had come to mean "don't touch my pussy." She considered the expression a sort of teasing joke since its original meaning of "You're welcome" contradicted its surface objection to that particular intimacy.

So "Don't touch my moustasche" has quite a long and curious history.

Posted by: Wiley Clements at Dec 6, 2009 7:24:08 AM

Heard the "don't touch my moustache" from college kids in the Hawaiian Club at the local college in the late '70's. Another fun Japanese "lazy American" phrase went something like this (complete with motions): "Ichy knee [scratch leg], sun she go [point to sky, arc hand laterally]." Congratulations! You just counted from 1 to 5 in Japanese.

Posted by: Abe at Feb 11, 2010 6:57:46 PM

I just saw this frase written on my jacket under the brand!!

Posted by: manolis at Dec 16, 2010 4:01:24 AM


I'm not too content with the pronunciation.
It's actually [doːitaɕimaɕte], and the i is silent.

Posted by: andy at Oct 25, 2011 2:05:30 PM

Just heard the reference to "Don't touch my mustache" while watching the old 1961 movie "A Majority of One" with Rosalind Russell and Alec Guinness. Had to google it! Found these comments.

Posted by: Jan at Mar 22, 2012 9:32:41 PM