JOK Notebook

Bits of Randomness

Happy Halloween!

As it's the last day of the month, it seems like a good time to gather various gleanings from recent work. What that really means is that I'm going to present a random collection of findings. I hope you don't have an overwhelming need for continuity at the moment!

Bit of Randomness #1

First, a matching quiz. Which major cities do you think these terms could represent? Work from your knowledge of the on-yomi because these names are ateji that draw on the sounds of the kanji, not the meanings:

1. 倫敦 a. Paris
2. 巴里 b. London
3. 羅馬 c. Rome

By the way, 敦 and 巴 are non-Joyo. 

I'll block the answers with a preview of the newest essay:

Okay, here we go:

1.b. 倫敦 (ロンドン) is "London."        
2.a. 巴里 (パリ) is "Paris."
3.c. 羅馬 (ローマ) is "Rome."

Those are all clear enough approximations, but here's one that isn't:

紐育 (ニューヨーク: New York)

It's hard to see how the non-Joyo 紐 (チュウ or ジュウ) + 育 (イク) could produce ニューヨーク, but 紐育 seems to have come directly from an old Chinese rendering of “New York.”

This gleaning was brought to you by essay 2081 on 頓 (sudden; to stay in place, stop).

Bit of Randomness #2

The next term comes from the same essay:    

頓珍漢 (とんちんかん: absurdity; contradiction; incoherence; irrelevance)

Any breakdown would be meaningless because this term is ateji, the kind in which the definitions of the kanji don’t matter. Only the sounds do. To be more specific, the yomi represents the sounds that a blacksmith and his apprentice produced with their syncopated hammering. It was rather like a dialogue:

blacksmith's hammer:トン! 
apprentice's hammer: チン! 
blacksmith's hammer: カン! 

Because their hammer blows were asynchronous, 頓珍漢 came to mean “irregular, confused, incoherent”! Cool, huh?!

Bit of Randomness #3

This bit is once more from essay 2081 on 頓, which has this listing in the Character Profile on page 1:

呉音 (ごおん, from Chinese readings of the 5th–6th c.): トン
慣用音 (かんようおん, the popularly accepted pronunciation, one that doesn’t correspond to 呉音): トツ [unused now]

Wait, the "popularly accepted" pronunciation is now unused? How is that possible? I’ve encountered this sort of thing several times before, and it always perplexes me.

My proofreader has finally gotten to the bottom of the issue, finding a statement about it from the Kojien publisher, Iwanami Shoten. That source says that 慣用音 just represents a reading that cannot be accounted for using the phonetic rules of 呉音, 漢音, or 唐音. Only some 慣用音 are popularly accepted, whereas others are not. As the 慣 in 慣用音 means "custom," I have to say that 慣用音 is a rather misleading term.

Bit of Randomness #4

The forthcoming essay 1916 on 涙 (tears; small amount) contains this term:

声涙ともに下る or 声涙倶に下る (せいるいともにくだる: to speak through one's tears; speak with tears in one's eyes)    voice + tears + at the same time + to come out

The breakdown applies to the latter kanji rendering, which includes the non-Joyo 倶.

Surprised to see 下る here, I asked my proofreader what role it played in the phrase.

"When someone becomes very emotional or excited," she said, "that person talks emotionally with tears. In this case, 下る expresses that both voice and tears are coming out simultaneously."

I wasn't quite sure: "Doesn't 下る actually mean 'to come down'? That works for tears, but it makes less sense for the voice."

She replied that 下る has many meanings, most of them involving something that goes from a high to a low place (or from up to down). In this phrase, she said, 下る is unusual. It means that something is coming out from the inside. That is, the voice is coming out of the mouth and out of the body.

She then gave an example of this type of 下る:

My stomach has been upset for the past few days.

2,3日 (にさんにち: two to three days); 腹 (はら: abdomen, stomach); 
下る (くだる: to come out)

According to her, this really means, "I’ve had diarrhea for the past few days." 

It does?! There's no mention of diarrhea! All I see is that the stomach is coming out! What a euphemism!

Bit of Randomness #5

Essay 1916 also contains this following term, which threw me for a loop:

熱涙 (ねつるい: tears shed when one is deeply moved)     hot + tears

Breen defines 熱涙 as "hot tears," which meant little to me. But even when my proofreader clarified the definition (noting that the term does not refer to the temperature of tears), I felt confused. When we're deeply moved, what's the connection to heat, metaphorical or otherwise? 

Information about the origin of the expression has been elusive, but I've learned that the following 熱 phrase has to do with being overcome by emotion:

熱いものが込み上げる (あついものがこみあげる: to become teary-eyed)
     hot + to well up inside (last 2 kanji)

My proofreader said that the Japanese associate 熱 with passion and excitement. That's true in 熱心 (ねっしん: enthusiasm) and 胸が熱くなる (むねがあつくなる: to be feverishly enthusiastic). But I'm still thrown off by the idea that heated emotions manifest as tears in the phrase above.

By contrast, English speakers associate emotional heat with "hotheads," people who are quick to anger or who become offended at the slightest thing. "Heated arguments" or "heated issues" are fraught with tension. People boiling with rage will shout far more often than they'll cry. 

Emotions should be rather universal, particularly as we experience them in the body, but I suppose perceptions and descriptions never are!

Have a great weekend! 


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