A Japanese Slang (Zokugo) – [Yabai (やばい!]

What is a slang?

Like any other country the slang is used among close friends, families who can have rough conversation, never used in business like situation.

Dangerous v Awesome

What is [Yabai] mean?

[Yaba i・やばい] is an adjective as well as a Japanese slang. Original meaning is negative such as dangerous, risky, vulgar, and highly concern in a negative way. However today’s many people use [yabai] in a positive way as a slang, it is used when the situations are cool, awesome, very good, crazy, sick and wild.

Originally a slang term used in the criminal underworld,[1][2][3] used to indicate that the police were getting close.[1] First cited to a text from 1892.[1]

Derived as a shift to an -i adjective of older -na adjective やば (yaba, “illegaldangerousuneasy, not going well”), itself a slang term of uncertain derivation that appears in sources from the late 1700s.[1][2][3]

Possibly related to the ayabu- stem in 危ぶむ (ayabumu, “to fear something, to view something as dangerous”), and the ayau- stem in 危うい (ayaui, “dangerous”, ancient reading ayapui). by Wiktionary

The change of its use

Having read the above, this word “yabai” was used among criminals.

However, in around 1980’s, ordinary people like us started using yabai as meaning of [not cool], [suspicious].

Now, there was an change of its use in 1990. Yabai was used not only for negative meanings but also for positive meaning, like [cool], [great] etc.

When to use it?

Yabai is a word that can be perceived as positive or negative based on the way you say it, and context of the situation is used for two different situations.

The examples

As colloquial

火山が噴火した. 直ぐに避難しないと、やべぇー(やばい)ことになるぞ!

Kazan ga funka shita. Sugu ni hinan shinai to, yabe- koto ni naru zo! (male language)

The volcano has erupted! If we don’t evacuate right now, it will be a bad situation!

*Other male languages – Yaba, Yabai su ne.


Ano ko, chotto, yabai wane. (female language)

That girl is a bit dangerous, isn’t she! Yikes.

As a slang


Mite, kono keshiki yabasugiru.

Look! this scenery is too amazing!


Kono kuruma yabai yo!.

This car is cool!


Yabai, oishi sugiru.

Very good, too delicious!

「Yabai」 for young generation

Yabai have so many meaning to the young generation. The list are below;

いいけっかgood result
すてきなきもちwonderful feeling
にあうlooks good
まずいtaste awful
かっこわるいnot cool
わるいけっかbad result
かわいくないnot cute
にあわないdoesn’t look good
きもちがわるいfeeling unwell

Final thought

For young generation, it can be used for almost everything, every situation which might creates confusion. If we do not see what is going on we might get it wrong. The best way, in my opinion, is to avoid from using too much.

Hope it is informative and interesting to you.


About mkchatinjapanese

I am a native Japanese who teaches Japanese to non-Japanese speaker as a private tutor. Teach from a beginner to Intermediate level. location in London.
This entry was posted in A Japanese Slang, Japanese Language, JAPANESE SOCIETY, TODAY'S NEW WORD and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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