JOK Notebook

Crazy Burger Eyes

Let's start with a quiz! See if you can match the following kanji expressions (with no breakdowns provided!) to the lettered definitions:

1. 一味違う (ひとあじちがう) a. nervous mannerism
2. 地に足の着いた (ちにあしのついた) b. to be effective
3. 物を言う (ものをいう) c. realistic, practical
4. 貧乏揺すり (びんぼうゆすり) d. to be somewhat different

I'll block the answer with a photo of how my dog Kanji stood while devouring dinner on a recent road trip. (This will seem slightly more relevant by the end—but only slightly!) 

Photo Credit: Eve Kushner

Okay, here we go!

1.d. 一味違う (ひとあじちがう: 1 + flavor + to be different) means "to be somewhat different." This comes from a culinary context, in that 一味 (ひとあじ) means "subtle seasoning." People usually use 一味違う with a positive nuance, as in this sentence, which appears in essay 1881 on 窯 (kiln; oven):

A pizza baked in a (wood-fired) oven tastes a bit different.

窯焼き (かまやき: baked or baking in an oven)

2.c. 地に足の着いた (ちにあしのついた: ground + feet + attached) means "realistic, practical." This term is about having one's feet solidly on the ground or being "grounded."

3.b. 物を言う (ものをいう: thing + to say) means "to be effective" or "to mean everything." A sentence from the forthcoming essay 1499 on 薦 (to recommend, advise; mat) gives a good sense of how people use this term:

The recommendation from my boss made all the difference.

課長 (しゃちょう: section manager); 推薦状 (すいせんじょう: letter of recommendation)

The phrase 物を言う (which literally translates as "to say things") may not seem intuitive, but it might help if you think of the similar English expressions "That says it all" and "That makes all the difference." Here's one more of this ilk in both languages:

money talks

金 (かね: money)

Money says things. Money says it all. Money "talks" (that is, proves to be effective) far more than actual talk does!

4.a. 貧乏揺すり (びんぼうゆすり: poor (1st 2 kanji) + shaking) means "nervous mannerism." Well, that's Breen's definition, but it's too broad. My proofreader's sources translate this expression as "nervous shaking of the leg or body" or "compulsive jiggling of the knee."

Those dictionaries don’t give the etymology, but Wikipedia lists several theories:

• When you jiggle your knees, you look like a poor person shivering from coldness.

• Loan sharks used to jiggle their knees when collecting debts from poor people.

• Jiggling appears to a noble person as if a poor person is moving restlessly.

• Poor people used to jiggle their knees out of nervousness.

• In the Edo era, people believed that if you jiggled some body part, the god of poverty (貧乏神, びんぼうがみ) would end up haunting you. Indeed, my proofreader recalls that when he was a kid and shook his knee, his mom would say, “If you keep doing that, you’ll end up poor!” (Incidentally, she was born long after the Edo era!)

I don't know about you, but I feel like the fun ended too soon, so let's try another quiz! Fill in the blank with the right word:

I was a salaryman working for a company that had about 100 people.

100人 (ひゃくにん: 100 people); 会社 (かいしゃ: company)

a. 規模 (きば)     measure, standard + pattern
b. 凝視 (ぎょうし)     frozen + gaze

This time I'll block the answer with a preview of the newest essay, which is on fear and uneasiness and happens to be coming out on Friday the 13th! I certainly didn't plan it that way!

All right, here's the word you needed:

a. 規模 (きば: measure, standard + pattern), which generally means "scale; scope; plan; structure." Those meanings more or less match the breakdown, but that neat equation becomes irrelevant in the sentence, in which 規模 translates as "about":

I was a salaryman working for a company that had about 100 people.

100人 (ひゃくにん: 100 people); 会社 (かいしゃ: company)

When someone wrote this to me in a recent email, it threw me for a loop, so I thought I'd share my loop with you!

But perhaps the use of the red word isn't as incomprehensible as it initially seemed to me. If you have a company "on the scale of" 100 people, it has approximately that many.

As for the false option, I encountered that term after posting artwork of a deer on Facebook. The animal had a very direct and almost manic look, prompting a Japanese friend to say that a good way to describe the deer would be as follows:

凝視 (ぎょうし: stare; gaze; fixation)     frozen + gaze

My dog has the very same fixated look when he's demanding another piece of burger, which is what he eats almost exclusively. We call his expression Crazy Burger Eyes. Instead perhaps we should refer to it as Frozen Gaze and encourage him to melt that look!

Photo Credit: Eve Kushner

Speak of the devil, he's hounding me right now for dinner!

Have a great weekend!


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