JOK Notebook

About Time

You likely know the word 歴史 (れきし: history). And perhaps you know 刻む (きざむ), which can mean "to carve" or "to engrave," among other things. What, then, do you think this phrase could represent:

歴史を刻む (れきしをきざむ)    

Choose the best option:

a. to spend time meaningfully, engraving memories on your mind
b. to doodle in your book during a dull history lecture
c. to create a monument to mark a historical event
d. to let time pass

I'll block the answer with previews of the two newest essays, which are essay 2018 and essay 1461:

Okay, here we go.

d. 歴史を刻む (れきしをきざむ) means "to let time pass" or "to feel time pass," because in this context 刻む means "to tick away (time)" or "to record the passing moments." 

It turns out that 刻む has quite a few definitions:

(1) to mince; cut fine; chop up; hash; shred; (2) carve; engrave; chisel; notch; (3) tick away (time); record the passing moments; (4) etch (into one's mind); remember distinctly; (5) have tattooed; (6) torment

The last two are archaic.

Time came up in a different way this week when I sent birthday greetings to a Japanese friend. His reply included this sentence:


I puzzled over this. The first word, 到頭 (which people usually write as とうとう) means "finally." And 乗る (のる) means "to get on," among other things. So if 大 is "big" and 台 means "platform," did he finally clamber up onto a big stage?! 

No, as I found out, 大台に乗る means “to turn an age that’s a multiple of 10” or more simply "to enter a new decade of life." 

I didn’t know why the phrase would mean that, but I found this explanation:

A stock market term, this word refers to a demarcation of prices with 100 yen as a unit.

株式相場 (かぶしきそうば: stock market quotation); 円* (えん: yen); 単位* (たんい: unit); 値段 (ねだん: price); 区切り (くぎり: to demarcate)

台 is a 10-yen denomination. 

台 (だい: level (e.g., price level)); 対する (たいする: to be related to); 語 (ご: word)

The 大台, or "large 台," is a 100-yen denomination. That is, 大台 comes from 台, and the 大 is there to indicate that 100 is larger than 10. 

So 大台 as my friend used it is a figurative twist on stock market lingo. But figurative expressions often become standard over the years, and that seems to be the case here. Breen says that 台 can mean ”period (of time (e.g., a decade of one's life)).” 

It's all very logical in a way, but I wish there were some merit to what I imagined. I could just see my friend (who has lived quite a few decades) as he clambered up onto a big stage without the benefit of stairs, accepting an award for reaching a new decade in life. If only there were such a prize!

Have a great weekend!




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