JOK Notebook

Cleaning House and Breaking Roots

Let's start with a quiz. Consider these terms:

片付ける (かたづける: to put in order, tidy up)

根っ子 (ねっこ: root; stump; stub)

Given these definitions, would you expect 片 (fragment, one of two, one side, settlement) or 根 (root) to have more positive meanings overall? I'll give you a moment to think about it, blocking the answer with a preview of the newest essay:

Okay, I'm back. Incidentally, the placement of the essay preview wasn't as random as it usually is. Through the essay, I learned this word:

片隅 (かたすみ: corner)     insignificant, remote + corner

People use this term in many important ways, so adding it to my vocabulary was valuable, but doing the breakdown led to a discovery that meant more to me. My proofreader explained that 片 can mean "little; incomplete; remote" in a negative way, as in these examples:

little:  片時 (かたとき: moment, instant)
     little + time
incomplete: 片言  (かたこと: broken language; halting language)
     incomplete + words
remote: 片田舎 (かたいなか: remote countryside)     
     remote + countryside (last 2 kanji)

What a surprise to learn that a kanji associated with orderliness could have a negative connotation. But it's true. Halpern provides many definitions of 片付ける. Besides "to put in order," he includes these translations: 

to clear away
to dispose of
to deal with 
to bring to a conclusion
to do away with
to kill
to give one's daughter in marriage

I've heard of murder euphemistically referred to as "getting rid of someone," so one could see it as a form of "clearing away," "dealing with," or certainly "doing away with." But giving away one's daughter in marriage?! Does that fall into the same category as sweeping up dust bunnies, taking out the trash, and even offing someone to clear up a problem?! 

I'm examining 片 and 根 (root) at the same time only because both caught my interest recently. I happened upon the latter one when my language partner used this term during our chat: 

根回し (ねまわし)    roots + around

What do you think it might mean? Let's do another quiz!

a. beating around the bush
b. laying the necessary groundwork
c. uprooting; moving
d. burning bridges

I'll block the answer with the cover of a bestseller by someone who calls herself a tidying-up consultant (片づけコンサルタント):

Photo Credit: Lutlam

The title and subtitle are as follows:

To Make Your Life Throb (with Joy or Excitement)

人生 (じんせい: life); ときめく(to throb)

The Magic of Tidying Up

魔法 (まほう: magic)

This book explains how to straighten up one’s room in such a way that it never becomes messy again! Magic indeed!

The answer is b. That is, 根回し (ねまわし: roots + around) figuratively means "making necessary arrangements; laying the groundwork." Literally, it can also mean "digging around the roots of a tree."

Dictionaries indicate that people dig around a tree to prepare it for transplanting, intentionally breaking the thin roots. This happens 6 to 24 months before the tree moves to a new location. During that waiting period, the tree will produce very thin roots around the broken ones. Thin, young roots suck up water and nutrients better than older, thicker roots can. That's the root (!) of the figurative meanings.

Although one might associate roots with negative things such as "deep-rooted problems," "root canals," or "root rot," it turns out that finding the origin of an issue largely has benefits. Thus, we have these encouraging words:

根本的 (こんぽんてき: fundamental)     root + origin + adjectival suffix

根拠 (こんきょ: grounds, basis, authority)     root + based on    

People use the first one to convey such things as "primary importance" and "essential." And with the second term you can talk about a "valid point of view," "grounds for believing that," and "sufficient grounds" for an action.

Perhaps because of associations with 根 and the penis, as with 男根 (だんこん: penis) and 巨根 (きょこん: huge penis; man with a huge penis), we also find terms in which 根 lends the meaning of "perseverance, stamina, mental energy":

根気 (こんき: perseverance, patience, energy)     perseverance + spirit

根性 (こんじょう: nature, spirit, temper; willpower; guts)     stamina + nature

精根 (せいこん: energy, vitality)     energy, semen + stamina, mental energy

It's amazing that women can even get out of bed in the morning, lacking the root of all these powers! Of course, they've long known that they need to tidy up (片付ける) before their fathers marry them off (片付ける) or kill them off (片付ける)—however you might like to see it!

Have a great weekend!


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