JOK Notebook

Muddy Waters

One of the greatest joys of learning Japanese is seeing how words for concrete images go off in unexpected figurative directions. So it is with muddy waters, which 濁 often represents (in conjunction with other kanji). 

What would you associate muddy waters with, aside from a great blues musician and maybe some unappealing toilet imagery? It's hard to think of anything else. When one gazes upon brown waters, one hardly feels like waxing poetic. 

But the Japanese have seized on the following common term and extracted its metaphorical juices in surprising ways:

濁流 (だくりゅう: muddy stream)     muddy + stream

I'll share three of them with you.

1. An Era in Decline

Let's start with an excerpt from the essay「茶の湯の手帳 (ちゃのゆのてちょう: “Tea Memorandum”)」 by 伊藤左千夫 (いとう さちお: 1864–1913, in which 伊 is non-Joyo):

People’s thoughts were soon taken over by the muddy stream of the era.

人間 (にんげん: person); 思潮 (しちょう: thought); 忽ちの内 (たちまちのうち: soon, in which 忽 is non-Joyo); 支配 (しはい: controlling, dominating); 処 (ところ: nominalizer)

The “muddy stream of the era! What could that mean?

One source explains that the author of this 1906 piece felt concerned about how much the Japanese were changing. As they imported more foreign goods and Western ways and as the upper classes became wealthier, intellectual pursuits declined. People lost interest in the tea ceremony, which requires mental training, and instead took up mindless amusements. The “muddy stream” in his comment apparently symbolizes the cultural changes altering the older and better values in Japan.

By the way, I believe the author’s use of 思潮 here instead of, say, 考え (かんがえ: thought) is quite clever. His tide (潮) imagery matches the muddy stream metaphor. In fact, the excerpt above is part of a longer sentence in which the author likens human thought to water.


2. Dirty Money, Stagnant Waters

Two novels plunge into the matter of financial corruption, each featuring 濁流 in its title.

In fact, that’s the whole title of the work above to the left. The subtitle is as follows:

The Business World and a Chain of Evil

企業 (きぎょう: business); 社会 (しゃかい: society); 悪 (あく: evil); 連鎖 (れんさ: chain)

The story exposes corruption in the high-finance realm and shows how people in that world are in cahoots with those in the government. 

The novel above to the right has a slightly longer title:

 Muddy Stream of Capital

資金 (しきん: capital)

This thriller involves the murder of the president of a virtual currency exchange and the possibility that that killing is tied to other serial murders.

So why do both novel titles include 濁流? My proofreader proposes two interpretations. First, 濁流 means “flow of dirty money.” Second, 濁流 implies that large, powerful organizations are closed societies in which people are quickly tainted by the “muddy stream” of all the wrongdoing. That happens, she says, because the “waters” in closed societies don’t flow, and any clear water (i.e., the purity of people) inevitably becomes muddy (i.e., corrupted).

3. A Muddy Rush

“Zinc yeast” pills (shown above) are supplements for men who want to ejaculate more semen and feel more sexual excitement. Apparently, zinc and brewer’s yeast can make this happen, increasing the rush of the so-called 濁流, the “muddy stream." What an interesting figurative use of this term!

Well, I can't top that, so I'll share a preview of the new essay 1558 on 濁 (muddiness; impurity; voiced), which is a gushing (and hopefully clear!) stream of information about this and much more:

Have a great weekend!


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