Okay class, settle down. Today we're studying everyday Japanese.
Perhaps one of the first phrases you would learn as a business traveller to Japan would be お疲れ様です, or "Otsukare sama desu"
It's often translated as "good work", "thanks for the hard work," or sometimes even "you must be tired" but it's meaning and common usage are much deeper--and more hilarious--than that.
I probably say お疲れさまです or it's past-tense counterpart 10-20 times every workday. We say it to each other after a class, after a meeting, or after almost anything work related that might have required an ounce or two of energy. (i.e. anything above and beyond sleeping at ones desk).
To get the literal meaning, let's break it down.
The last word, "desu" is just the verb "to be." It means that whatever comes before it "is."
The first word is "tsukare," meaning "to be tired" but it's distinct from other kinds of tiredness and exhaustion. Tsukare means specifically being tired from working too hard. It's a cultural gem in and of itself
Adding "O-" to the front of "tsukare" (Otsukare) makes it "honorific." In Japanese you add the Honorific "O" to many things, especially Japanese type things like green tea and bentos. But this is only done if the object in question pertains to someone else. For example, when offering someone tea, it is polite to say O-cha. (O-tea... "your tea, sire"), but if referring to your own tea, you should drop the O to be more modest. (MY stuff is normal. YOUR stuff is extra special). Mmm even more cultural goodness packed into that tiny prefix.
The next word in the phrase is "sama."
Sama is one of many japanese words that are equated roughly to "Mister" in English. However, the normal version is San, meaning Mr/Mrs/Ms. Seidman-san, Bethany-san, Kitajima-san, etc. (as an aside, it works for first names as well as last, as distinct from English).
Japanese has many more versions of these, each with a different meanings depending on your relationship to the person. Like in English, sometimes a person's title can replace Mr. For example, just like Mr. Gregory House, MD can be called Dr. House, Mr. Notohara, the teacher, can and should be called "Notohara sensei" Here are the variations that i know of:
-san: standard Mr./Ms.
-sensei: teacher (which leads to a lot awkward translations into Michael-teacher or Takakura-teacher when students try to translate into English)
-chan: for girls, young women, and cutesy/diminuative nicknames (both genders) sometimes dudes have told me their nickname is A-chan or somesuch.
-kun: for boys and young men, or a guy you're really friendly with. One of the ALTs at my school used to be called "Ben-kun" by his students, which means that they really viewed him as a peer.
-sama: reserved for superiors and seniors.
So the whole thing -- Otsukare sama desu-- means literally
"You are Mr. Honorably-tired-from-working-too-hard."