JOK Notebook

Measure of a Life

You probably know the common words 時計 (とけい: watch) and 計画 (けいかく: plan). Both include 計, which can mean "plan" and "to compute," also serving as a suffix meaning "measuring instrument."

Henshall breaks down 計 as "words" (言) + "10" (十), initially meaning "to count in 10s" and later coming to mean just "count, measure." That's a cool etymology, but I have to admit that I'm disappointed. I wanted the right side to represent "needle" (as in 針, "needle"), which would have given us "pointed words." Alas, that's not the case.

Do you know how to interpret 計 in other contexts? For instance, would 生計 be the "measure of a life"?! Try matching the following terms and definitions:

1. 生計 (せいけい) a. tally
2. 集計 (しゅうけい) b. cumulative total
3. 余計な世話を焼く (よけいなせわをやく) c. statistic
4. 累計 (るいけい) d. livelihood
5. 会計士 (かいけいし) e. accountant
6. 統計 (とうけい) f. to poke one's nose (in) where one is not wanted

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

Okay, here we go:

1.d. 生計 (せいけい) means "livelihood" and could break down as livelihood + total. If so, this word has nothing to do with philosophy. Instead, it seems to be strictly about counting the money! Well, that's my take on the situation, but my proofreader sees it differently. He notes that in 生計を立てる (to make a living), the verb is 立てる (たてる), as is true in 計画を立てる (to make plans). Therefore, he interprets 生計 as life + plan, method, meaning "plan for life" or "method of living." By the way, it might seem from 立 as if one must stand up (立つ, たつ) to do all that living and planning, but in both cases 立てる means "to establish, set up, form." 

2.a. 集計 (しゅうけい) means "tally." If you collect + count results, you're tallying them!

3.f. 余計な世話を焼く (よけいなせわをやく) means "to poke one's nose (in) where one is not wanted." This idiomatic expression is hard to grasp! It breaks down as unnecessary (1st 2 kanji) + to take care of (someone) voluntarily (last 3 kanji). But why is there any mention of baking or burning (焼く) in the set phrase 世話を焼く? My proofreader has no idea but says that that this transitive verb has an intransitive counterpart, 焼ける (やける), which can mean "to require attention," as in 手が焼ける (てがやける: to cause trouble) or 世話が焼ける (せわがやける: to cause trouble). That intransitive verb is likely the origin of this strange use of 焼く, he says.

4.b. 累計 (るいけい) means "cumulative total." This comes as no surprise once you realize that the breakdown is cumulative + total!

5.e. 会計士 (かいけいし) means "accountant." This term breaks down as account (1st 2 kanji) + member of a profession. That's perfectly logical, but what about the 会, which usually means "to meet" or "society"? In this word it stands for "accounting," says Halpern! Therefore, we can break down 会計 as accounting + calculating.

6.c. 統計 (とうけい) means "statistic." The first kanji primarily means "to unite," so it may be hard to see the relevance. But it's quite logical if you think of the breakdown as to gather into one + to compute. I like that—statistics are a round-up and consolidation of information.

I realize that statistics and accounting aren't everyone's idea of a good time, but I find 計 to be a great deal of fun. If it broke down as "pointed words," so much the better! I have a lot of pointed comments that I'm dying to make!

Have a great weekend.


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