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I was at a loss when I was asked by my friend how to translate a Japanese expression, “oujogiwa ga warui - 往生際が悪い,” which literally means “die in wrong (disgraceful) manner” into English. The phrase is applied to someone who doesn’t concede his or her wrong-doing, failure, loss of game, or defeat, even though they are very obvious to others. Conversely, “往生際がよい - Oujougiwaga yoi” means to act fairly and bow out gracefully from the stage.

Google Translation gave “bad birth.” Kenkyusha’s Japanese-English Dictionary 5th Ed. gave “the moment of death,” the same Kenkyusha’s “New College Japanese-English Dictionary, 5th Edition gave “Do not know when quit or admit one is wrong.” as a translation of “往生際(が悪い). None of them seemed to be the one I was seeking for.

Are there similar expressions in English?

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    Is this specifically about death? For the former, I’d say “died in disgrace”. I’m not sure a translation could retain the exact Japanese shame/honor sense, but translating that to western concerns about disgrace/dignity seems to work as an approximation. – StephenS Nov 10 '20 at 17:31
  • Beware confusion with the often-used English expression "growing old disgracefully" which is usually used in a positive or approving sense about an older person who continues to have a good time, have affairs, enjoy life, express controversial opinions, etc, when others of the same age are content to subside into a "dignified" old age. – Michael Harvey Nov 11 '20 at 10:02
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I would suggest the person is a poor (or sore, or bad) loser

poor loser
: a person who becomes upset or angry when he or she loses
Merriam Webster

For example, here's a recent usage regarding the American presidential election:

'Trump looking like a poor loser' as US President begins legal battle against Biden voters

(Special note: In Japanese the phrase doesn't mean "death" but "brink of death," and the usage has been extended metaphorically; the reference to "death" here has no more literal application than does "skinning a cat" have in the phrase "more than one way to skin a cat." See 往生際.)

  • Robuste-San. Poor loser.It didn’t’ occur to me, because I was too much stuck to Japanese sense of 往生 - the moment of death. – Yoichi Oishi Nov 10 '20 at 1:49
  • Oishi-san, that is perfectly understandable. Death is the ultimate loss, isn't it? – Robusto Nov 10 '20 at 1:52
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    Also: sore loser which is very similar but more common. – Yorik Nov 10 '20 at 16:03
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    @Mari-LouA: "So shall it be written, so shall it be done." – Robusto Nov 10 '20 at 16:46
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    @jpaugh: A fair point. I have inserted my comment into the text. – Robusto Nov 11 '20 at 21:42
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One English word that describes someone who does not admit their wrongdoings is unrepentant. The Oxford English Dictionary defines the word thus:

Feeling or evincing no regret for one’s wrongdoings; impenitent. Now also more generally: not sorry for any action or behaviour, unapologetic.

The word is not restricted to referring to one's attitude at death. That said, the word is sometimes used to refer to people who do not repent from their wrongdoing before death or the Last Judgment, especially in a Christian context. The OED has several examples of unrepentant used in the face of death:

Bible (Wycliffite, E.V.) (Douce 369(2)) (1850) Rom. ii. 5 Aftir thi hardnesse and vnrepentaunt [L. impaenitens] herte, thou tresourist to thee wraththe in to the day of wraththe. [Translation: Befitting your hardness and unrepentant heart, you store up wrath to yourself for the day of wrath.]

c1450 Jacob's Well (1900) 9 In þis cursyng, who-so deye vnrepentaunt, schal haue a dredeful ende! [Translation: In this cursing, whoever dies unrepentant shall have a dreadful end!]

1796 W. Cole Contradiction 144 May I die unrepentant and unforgiven, if my humiliation come not from my heart; if my contrition be not sincere!

Today, it is very common to see unrepentant describing someone who is very obviously bad: two of the top collocations for unrepentant with a noun are unrepentant sinner and unrepentant terrorist. Otherwise, unrepentant is frequently used as a predicate adjective describing the subject of the sentence, as the first results from a COCA search show (Corpus of Contemporary American English):

The prodigal is allowed to return even if unrepentant.

Buchanan as ever was unrepentant about his and his wife's aim.

Ledstone was quite unrepentant about his grandfather.

  • So, you're suggesting, "He died unrepentant," as the right usage in this case? I like that terse phrasing, even if it sounds a bit dated. (Unrepentant has faint religious undertones which are unpopular in some groups.) – jpaugh Nov 11 '20 at 20:55
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I would call that person a bad sport or a poor sport (in addition to acting like a sore loser).

poor/bad sport : a person who is rude or angry about losing

It is the opposite of showing good sportsmanship. An example used in social-emotional learning here: "It's always upsetting to see your child behave like a bad sport."

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    Bad sport is much less specific than poor/sore loser — e.g. bad sport can equally be used to describe a winner who is ungracious towards the rival they beat. – PLL Nov 10 '20 at 11:24
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    While I cannot say that "poor sport" is incorrect, "bad sport" is much more common. – John McGehee Nov 10 '20 at 20:56
  • @JohnMcGehee I thought so, too, in my part of the world at least. The Ngram ends up painting a different picture. Surprised me. – livresque Nov 10 '20 at 22:30
2

I might call such a person

Stubborn to the end

Someone who is stubborn to the end would rather die than admit their wrongdoing.

I feel this fits the original sense due to the "to the end" part - the "end" being death.

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    But that could just as well apply to someone who was right, and stuck to their position regardless. E.g. Galileo's famous "it still moves". – jamesqf Nov 10 '20 at 17:13
  • @jamesqf yes that's true – Aaron F Nov 10 '20 at 17:22
  • @jamesqf While that's technically true, if a positive meaning were implied, there are many emphatically positive alternatives available: fastidious, faithful, brave. Stubborn is usually only positive in a tongue-in-cheek (e.g. making fun of a close friend) or self-deprecating way. – jpaugh Nov 11 '20 at 20:59
  • In fact, any non-satirical positive usage I can think of contains an implicit claim that vices can sometimes be virtues: I stood my ground --- not because I am brave, but because I am stubborn. – jpaugh Nov 11 '20 at 21:06
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    Actually, <adjective> until the end is even better, since you could equally well use stubborn, defensive, idiotic, unrepentant, unreliable, etc, etc, etc. – jpaugh Nov 11 '20 at 21:35
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While "sore loser" conveys bad behavior triggered by a loss, I think the phrase "die with the lie" gets closer to the original feeling. For example:

We all know he lost fair and square, these lawsuits are just part of his "die with the lie" attitude.

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    I'm not sure where that phrase is from, but as a Brit it's not one I've ever heard before. – Graham Nov 10 '20 at 23:06
  • Popular attribution seems to be Will Smith's character in 2015's "Focus" but I grew up hearing it in the American South and here's a 2010 occurrence: bprentice.wordpress.com/2010/03/29/… so I don't think that's the real origin. It might be quite regional, but I believe it also directly conveys it's intent – ZachP Nov 11 '20 at 14:35
  • It's interesting; yet as someone who's lived in Oklahoma and WV, I've never heard it; so its usage must be more specific than "Southern." (I know there are Georgian phrases which don't make their way all the way up to WV, for example.) – jpaugh Nov 11 '20 at 21:02

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