176. The "Face" Radical: 面

Some people are two-faced, whereas others have a poker face. Either way, you can't read their intentions or thoughts accurately. But with 面, what you see is what you get.

That is, this radical looks exactly like the following Joyo kanji:

面 (395: face; side; to meet in person; (newspaper) page)

Just as the Japanese radical name めん is identical to the Joyo on-yomi of this character, the English radical name "face" matches the first definition of this kanji. "Surface" is another possible name.

The nine-stroke 面 shape has no variants. And this radical is on duty in exactly one Joyo kanji—namely, 面 itself.

What could be simpler?!

Photo Credit: Eve Kushner

The フグれっ面 (フグれっつら) is a pun on 膨れっ面 (ふくれっつら), which literally means "swollen face" but actually refers to puffing out one's cheeks in anger or dissatisfaction. This wordplay alludes to the swollen body of a blowfish (ふぐ). 

The いやいや means "no, no."

Though the leftmost column is hard to see, it says 福笑い (ふぐわらい). That's a pun on 福笑い (ふくわらい), a game in which blindfolded players pin facial features onto a blank paper face. In other words Picasso meets Pin the Tail on the Donkey.

The face shape matches that of an お多福 (おたふく: homely woman with high cheeks and a tiny nose)—also called an おかめ (お亀)—which is why 福笑い contains 福. And the 笑い (laughing) comes from people's response to the crazy results.

The pun-filled Japanese is hard to translate, but one could interpret it this way:

Is that a sulky face with the cheeks puffed out?
No, no, that’s the fukuwarai game.

Reading the Face

Here's what Henshall says about the etymology of 面 in his newer edition:

• Several scholars interpret this shape as representing the face with either a single line or multiple lines in front of it. 

• One expert who adheres to that theory sees a particularly long stroke in the bronze form as depicting the front surface of the face.

• Other etymology gurus feel that 面 symbolizes a mask.

Henshall adds that "face" led to extended senses such as "aspect."