JOK Notebook

Caged Camels and Other Mysteries

This weekend I told my language-exchange partner how I recently rode a camel in the Canary Islands. When I showed him pictures, Kensuke-san wondered why the camel's mouth was caged. 

Photo Credit: Eve Kushner

I explained that if it weren't for that protection, this spiteful, spitful animal might bite anyone standing nearby. As it was, one camel bucked his head and snarled at me, and you can see how well I handled it:

I've always found that "camel pose" in yoga
gives me a sense of power. This "scared camel pose" reveals something very different!

Once he understood what I meant, Kensuke-san used the following word, which features a non-Joyo kanji:

噛む (かむ: to bite; chew; gnaw)

Strangely enough, かむ sounds like "camel." That certainly makes the word easier to remember!

We moved on to one topic after another, and Kensuke-san eventually told me about a wedding he had just attended. He's constantly going to friends' weddings, and as far as I can tell he always makes speeches or acts as the MC. Impressive! With his usual modesty, Kensuke-san downplayed this talent, saying he doesn't think he's a good public speaker. Here he again used 噛む, and I was confused! What or whom was he biting?!

As it turns out, this word has quite a few meanings (as many as seven in Yahoo! Japan's dictionary). This time he meant "to fumble or falter with one's words." This usage originated as show biz slang, and its etymology is uncertain, but the meaning may well come from the sense that one is biting one's tongue, rather than speaking smoothly.

In English, "to bite one's tongue" has an entirely different meaning!

I feel as if I've stumbled over my own tongue in prior announcements about new essays. That is, I've failed to tell you anything useful about the content of each one! I'll remedy that here.

You can find all of these essays and many others here.

Have a great week, and may you avoid biting your own tongue. I hope you can also avoid being bitten by a camel! 



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