"Womansword" Again and Kanji Pictionary
I'm as crazy about the book now as I was when I originally read it about 15 years ago. The book is now pushing 30 and has been re-released for that occasion. As I explained last week, the text hasn't changed, except for a new preface and index. As I also noted, the overall lack of kanji now frustrates me in a way it didn't before I knew any.
Here's a great example of the book's assets and limitations in one fell swoop:
The female upstart is likely to begin life as an otenba, what an English speaker calls a tomboy. Otenba, literally "honorable twisting and turning granny," suggests health and energy.... A Japanese girl can get away with being a tomboy until about age twenty, but then tradition calls for her to settle down and avoid challenging the males around her.... She is said to achieve "in spite of being a woman" (onna-datera ni or onna no kuse ni). She brings about "male loss of face" (otoko kaomake) because she is "more than a man" (otoko ijo) (pp. 51–52).
This passage blows me away for several reasons:
1. I knew none of this information (despite having read the same paragraph eons ago).
2. Can Japanese men really be that horrible, even now? It sounds absolutely stifling to be a woman in such an environment. I checked with my male proofreader (though admittedly I should have asked a woman!) as to whether the facts in this paragraph still seem accurate in 2016. His reply: "The latter half (starting with 'A Japanese girl can get away with …') sounds a bit outdated; I don’t think we’re that sexist."
3. Cherry's text brilliantly interweaves cultural and linguistic strands, just as the whole book does. There's almost too much to digest in these few lines, especially because I feel the urge to stop and correlate the romaji with kanji until I truly understand what is being said. So let me do that now. Here are the Japanese words she mentioned:
おてんば (お転婆 or 御転婆: tomboy)
This term comes from the Dutch ontembaar, and although the Japanese primarily write the word in hiragana, there are two ways of rendering it in kanji. (The latter starts with 御, which corresponds to the honorific prefix お-.) Anyway, 転婆 breaks down as revolving + old woman or, as Cherry says, "twisting and turning granny"! With this type of ateji, the meaning of each kanji is irrelevant.
女だてらに (おんなだてらに: in spite of being a woman), though Breen defines this term as "unlike a woman; unwomanly."
女の癖に (おんなのくせに: in spite of being a woman), in which 癖に is "despite."
男顔負け (おとこかおまけ: male loss of face), though my proofreader's source defines this more as "making a man lose face."
Now we come to the part of the proceedings that constitute a form of kanji Pictionary! When Cherry describes a character and tries to create a picture of it in words, I'm often at a loss. Sometimes I don't even know if she's talking about a single character or a compound. This time you can join in the fun by matching her descriptions to kanji:
1. "Pleasure (go) is indicated by a combination of 'woman' with the verb for receiving from an inferior" (p. 48).
2. "A character composed of the female ideogram holding a duster is often followed by 'person' to create fujin, a classy-looking word for women used in government documents and department store ads" (p. 47). What is the fu of fujin?
3. "All husbands are designated otto, a character that shows somebody wearing the ornamental hairpin that used to signal coming-of-age for Japanese males" (pp. 90–91).
4. One nasty name for wives is a made-in-Japan character that combines "female" + "nose." The result is a "foul-smelling term." (Here I have largely paraphrased something from page 95.)
5. "The closest that husbands come to such a demeaning designation is being called 'innkeepers' (yadoroku), a term that implies they are loafers" (p. 91).
a. 夫 b. 嬶 c. 娯 d. 宿六 e. 婦
I'll block the answers with a preview of the newest essay:
Okay, here we go.
1.c. "Pleasure (go) is indicated by a combination of 'woman' with the verb for receiving from an inferior." This sentence refers to 娯. The part inside is 呉, which corresponds to く•れる. But my proofreader notes that the reference to an inferior isn't necessarily accurate; even if the giver and recipient are peers, くれる still works.
2.e. "A character composed of the female ideogram holding a duster is often followed by 'person' to create fujin, a classy-looking word for women used in government documents and department store ads." The fu part is 婦. Ah, I remember 婦人 from this photo on page 1 of essay 1727 on 卑 (base, lowly, vile, vulgar, mean):
Photo Credit: Eve Kushner
The sign was for a shop in the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo, a shop named after 卑弥呼 (ひみこ). She was a third-century Japanese queen and is still a popular historical figure today. The rabbit is wearing a crown in her honor, plus just one shoe!
3.a. "All husbands are designated otto, a character that shows somebody wearing the ornamental hairpin that used to signal coming-of-age for Japanese males." Here Cherry is talking about 夫 (おっと). I have used this kanji for years but have never before noticed what an odd yomi おっと is for a singleton. I've now learned that this おっと is a phonetic alteration of 男人 (おひと: male person).
4.b. One nasty name for wives is a made-in-Japan character that combines "female" + "nose." The result is a "foul-smelling term." Cherry is talking about 嬶, a non-Joyo kanji with the yomi かかあ. No wonder it smells foul! Was it somehow intentional that the yomi sounds like "caca"? Again I find かかあ to be a very strange yomi for a singleton. To understand it, we need to consider that in お母さん (おかあさん: mother), the 母 has the yomi かあ. The かかあ reading of 嬶 may have some relationship to that かあ yomi. At any rate, dictionaries say that かかあ is a phonetically altered version of かか, an old way of addressing a mother or wife.
5.d. "The closest that husbands come to such a demeaning designation is being called 'innkeepers' (yadoroku), a term that implies they are loafers." Here's the word in question:
宿六 (やどろく: husband)
This stumped me more than anything else in today's blog! Dictionaries say that 宿六 comes from this word:
宿のろくでなし (やどのろくでなし: a good-for-nothing in the house)
Although 宿 usually means “inn," it refers here to the house.
In 宿六, the 六 (ろく) doesn't mean "six," as it typically does. Instead, this ateji is short for ろくでなし (碌でなし: good-for-nothing), in which 碌 is non-Joyo.
Wow, Japanese insults are certainly convoluted! Have a great weekend!