JOK Notebook

Eat Your Heart Out (or Someone Else's)

I'm sure you won't be surprised to learn that the following word can mean "food":

食い物 (くいもの: food)     to eat + thing

However, its secondary definition took me aback. What else do you think this term could mean?

a. encroaching
b. persistence
c. victim
d. discord

I'll block the answer with a preview of the latest essay:

The answer is c. victim:

食い物 (くいもの: (1) food; (2) victim)     to eat + thing

If you take advantage of (i.e., victimize) someone, you're like a predator in the original sense of "prey" (that is, one animal's eating another).

To talk about exploiting a person, we could use the keyword this way:

She was taken in by a swindler.

彼女 (かのじょ: she); 詐欺師 (さぎし: swindler)

The core structure is as follows:

(exploiter) の食い物になる (to be taken in by (exploiter); be ripped off by (exploiter)) 

We could also replace なる with される here. Note that される is passive. So is the English translation of the core phrase. Being preyed on is a passive activity! 

Alternatively, we can use the keyword with inanimate objects, as in exploiting a resource or milking something for money. Here's the structure we need for that:

(object) を食い物にする (to exploit (an object))

And some examples:

to use another person's land for one's own profit    

他人 (たにん: another person); 土地 (とち: land)

to prey on the good nature of others

人 (ひと: person); 善意 (ぜんい: good intentions)

Let's go back to the false quiz options:

a. encroaching
b. persistence
d. discord

I included them for a reason; they all reflect figurative uses of 食.

With "encroaching" I'm talking about this term:

食い込む (くいこむ: to encroach)     to eat + to go into

The breakdown makes it clear why 食 would be part of such a word; it's about "eating into" someone else's space.

In terms of "persistence" we find this term:

食い下がる (くいさがる: to hang onto (an opponent); be persistent)     to eat + to hang

I tried and failed to imagine an athletic arena in which one hangs onto an opponent (though sumo is possible), but it turns out that this word applies mainly to verbal battles. Imagine that someone pounces on your every word. That's the gist of 食い下がる.

I can understand this term better thanks to Halpern's dictionary categorization. He says that the 食う (くう) here means "to hold onto (in one's mouth), not let go." Anyone who has tried to pry open a dog's jaw to whisk away a forbidden food can imagine this immediately and knows how formidably persistent the dog will be!

As for "discord," that has to do with this word:

食い違う (くいちがう: to disagree, be in discord)     to eat + to differ

To grasp why, we need to consider its antonym:

食い合う (くいあう: to fit together)     to eat + each other

This uncommon word refers to two things that fit together perfectly. I'm told that when they do so, it's as if they were biting each other! Really? That sounds more like discord than perfect harmony. 

Oh, wait, this isn't about people's biting each other! Instead, it's like two gear wheels that sync up beautifully, the teeth on one finding concavities on the other.

To express this, people are much more likely to use the following common term, which starts with a non-Joyo kanji:

噛み合う (かみあう: to be in gear, mesh with; bite each other)     to bite + each other

The opposite of 噛み合う and 食い合う is 食い違う, in which "two things don't bite each other," which means that they don't fit into each other. That is, there is disharmony. 

So now you know: biting creates harmony! 

Have a great weekend!


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