JOK Notebook

Fortune Fit for a Queen

Last weekend my Japanese language partner Kensuke mentioned Facebook during our regular Skype chat. He doesn't use Facebook, but someone close to him does, and I became quite curious to see what that someone looked like. Using the "Share Screen" feature of Skype (I adore that!) so that Kensuke could see what I saw, I searched Facebook for the guy he mentioned, but nothing turned up. 

Disappointed and suddenly bored, I asked Kensuke if he wanted me to find any exes on Facebook to see what they look like now. He consented to have me search for two, but he didn't know their married names, so it went nowhere. More disappointment and boredom.

Then I thought of Googling their maiden names, and one search result led us to a site that tells people's fortunes based on the number of strokes in their names! What a fun idea! (It's also one that people take seriously when naming babies.) All my malaise dissipated immediately. 

The woman's name contained 30 strokes, and although the Japanese sentences are poorly written (according to Kensuke), the fortune contained some phrases that fascinated me. I enjoyed going over them with him so much that I thought I'd do the same with you. Here's how the fortune started:

A stroke count of 30 has the same basic meaning as that of 20, 40, or 50. 

-画 (-かく: counter for strokes in a kanji); 人* (ひと: person); 基本的 (きほんてき: fundamental); 意味 (いみ: meaning); 持つ (もつ: to have); 画数 (かくすう: stroke count)

The 人 shouldn’t be there, I've learned, and right after 50画と there should be something like 同様に (どうように: in the same way).

But 30 is a little different.

少し (すこし: a little); 異なる (ことなる: to differ)

Again, the 人 is extraneous. 

With everything, good and bad, the person works seriously and obsessively.

良い (よい: good); 悪い (わるい: bad); 何事* (なにごと: everything); 真面目 (まじめ: serious); 根をつめる (こんをつめる: to be a very hard worker); 頑張る (がんばる: to keep at it, do one's best); 凝り性 (こりしょう: obsession, enthusiasm for one thing)

The 根をつめて jumped out for Kensuke, who said it has worrisome connotations. The phrase implies that someone works very hard, which is positive, but there's also a sense that overdoing it could make the person sick, so 根をつめて is mostly negative. In this case, 頑張る makes the whole phrase positive. And the writer is so unskilled that it's possible that this sentence never should have included a negative connotation in the first place.

Whew. I suddenly felt worried that Kensuke's ex could fall ill. Why I should care about her, I'm not sure! Let's see what else it says about her:

This person is apt to go to extremes, so her fortune is that even if she succeeds, she'll have trouble making that success last.

極端* (きょくたん: extreme); 走る (はしる: to run); 傾向がある (けいこうがある: to tend); 成功* (せいこう: success); 持続* (じぞく: continuation); 困難 (こんなん: difficulty); 運勢 (うんせい: fortune, luck)

I didn't quite follow this part, so Kensuke gave me some pointers:

• Take 何事も極端から極端へと走る as a set phrase meaning "to go to extremes." Everything is extreme for this person, he said. It's all very good or very bad, so her future will involve both good and bad luck.

No wonder I cared about this person. She sounds like all the drama queens who have been drawn to me over the years and who have talked my ear off. It's a great fit at first; I tend to listen well, initially intrigued by vivid, complex problems, and as I engage with the issues I find it natural to empathize a great deal. It doesn't bother me at that point that one voice dominates the conversation. I figure that when the person resolves the pressing issue at hand, our talks will become more mutual. Years down the road, I realize that that never happened because it wasn't possible. The poor dear suffered crisis after crisis, so it never stopped being her turn to talk! 

• The から ... へ ... structure is particularly significant, said Kensuke. Perhaps it implies that the pattern of going from one extreme to another will repeat ad infinitum. 

When he emphasized that structure, my mind went to a comment my proofreader had just made while reviewing essay 2109 on 蜂 (はち: bee; hornet; wasp). It involved a sentence from Breen:

Bees fly from flower to flower.

花* (はな: flower); 飛ぶ (とぶ: to fly)

My proofreader said, "For some reason that I can't explain well, we prefer へ to に here." Okay, then, it became は花から花へ飛ぶ. It was an easy fix, and I didn't think about it much until I encountered the から ... へ ... structure in the fortune. It now seems to me that these two particles function as opposites, sounding very good to a Japanese ear when they play off each other like that. Let's continue:

(People with 30 strokes in their names) tend to dream of getting rich quickly. Not a few of them move from job to job, from apartment to apartment with that hope.

一攫千金 (いっかくせんきん: getting rich quickly); 夢見る (ゆめみる: to dream); ところ (tendency); 職業 (しょくぎょう: occupation); 住居 (じゅうきょ: address); 転々とする (てんてんとする: to move from place to place); 少なくない (すくなくない: there are not a few)

Wow, the fortune teller seems as fed up with this type as I am! But what's going on with the last bit, 少なくない, "there are not a few"? That's the same as "there are many," said Kensuke, noting that the writer hedged the statement for a lack of data. Without hard statistics, the writer couldn't say there are millions of people like this and therefore stated it in a mild, roundabout way. "That's a very Japanese thing to do," Kensuke said. To continue:

Sometimes this person succeeds in predicting the future.

まれ (rare; seldom); 思惑が当たり (おもわくがあたり: predicting accurately); 大きな成功を掴む (おおきなせいこうをつかむ: to be very successful)

The まれに here is misleading, said Kensuke, and we could dispense with it altogether.

But such a person sometimes drowns in plans and screws it up. It can be said that, without years of patience and precise, careful calculation, even if such a person succeeds, she will have trouble maintaining that success in a stable way.

策に溺れる (さくにおぼれる: to drown in plans); 足元をすくう (あしもとをすくう: to trip someone up; pull the carpet out from under); 場合 (ばあい: case, situation); 長年にわたる (ながねんにわたる: for a long time); 忍耐力 (にんたいりょく: fortitude); 緻密 (ちみつ: precise); 慎重 (しんちょう: careful); 計算 (けいさん: forecast); 限り (かぎり: limit); 安定 (あんてい: stability); 難しい (むずかしい: hard); と言える (といえる: it can be said that)

The 足元をすくう is incorrect. Here's the expression the writer wanted:

足を掬う (あしをすくう: to trip someone up; pull the carpet out from under)

Even this phrase may not be appropriate in the current context because there’s no indication of who pulls the carpet out from under the person in question. Given the constraints, the best translation seems to be "to screw up (because of someone else).” 

Speaking of screw-ups, good riddance to this sad woman with a troubling personal history and an even more alarming future. Kensuke, you're better off without her!

Here's a preview of the newest essay, which (like the fortune) presents a wealth of useful phrases:

Have a great weekend. And steer clear of drama queens and kings!


Add comment

Log in or register to post comments