JOK Notebook

Repelling Relatives

When was the last time you saw wordplay at the grocery store? I may have encountered some cute product names, but I'm quite certain I've never seen the level of playfulness presented on this packaging. Check it out. Do you see any twists or double entendres?

Photo Credit: Rie Webster

It looks pretty standard, right? The only thing that jumped out at me was 姑, and that was because I didn't know it. When I looked it up and learned that this non-Joyo kanji meant "mother-in-law," I was amused. Eons ago, someone must have combined "old" (古) and "woman" (女) to have that meaning as a way of getting back at an overbearing mother-in-law!

But what could a mother-in-law have to do with beans (豆)? And what is the -な that somehow turns 豆 into an adjective?

There's a lot to unravel here. Let's start on the right:

like pork

豚肉 (ぶたにく: pork)

So far it's straightforward. But not for long! Let's move to the largest writing:

• 肉らしい (like meat) is a play on 憎らしい (hateful). One reads both as にくらしい. 

• 豆な, which is not an actual word, sounds just like 忠実な (まめな: diligent). 

So far, then, we have "The hateful, diligent mother-in-law" or "The mother-in-law (made from) beans that are like meat." To be more precise, she is made from soybeans that are like pork.

Clearly, this marketing strategy is a world apart from American methods. To sell anything in the United States, it's highly doubtful that someone would mention hatred, diligence, or certainly mother-in-laws. They might worry that such keywords would go right to the amygdala, the part of the brain associated with primal fear and aggression. Actually, the mere notion of fake meat might have that effect on some people)

The marketers who wrote this Japanese text apparently assumed that intriguing, clever, and somewhat baffling words would instead hook customers. And they might have been right because this product is just one in a series of items that draw on the family member theme. Here are two other offerings: 

• 肉らしい豆な親父: fake beef made from beans, in which 親父 (おやじ) means "one's father" or "old man"

• 肉らしい豆な嫁: fake chicken made from beans, in which 嫁 (よめ) means "wife," "bride," or "daughter-in-law"

My proofreader figured all this out but felt stymied. "The last part of the product name seems quite random," he said. "I don't see a logical connection between what the exact product is and 'mother-in-law,' etc."

Hmm .... A beefy father? A daughter-in-law who's a chicken? A porky mother-in-law? Are we supposed to think about the products with these English terms in mind?! That would be expecting quite a lot of the consumer!

I assumed that the 畑の肉 on the upper left was also a fun bit of wordplay, and to some degree it is. The phrase means "meat (肉) from fields (畑, はたけ)," implying that soybeans have so much protein that they rival meat. However, it turns out that 畑の肉 is a common expression; it's not as if the manufacturer coined it for these products.

Oh, wait. I have a new take on the product names. What's the best way to get rid of the family members you dislike? Invite them over for a dinner of fake meat. There—you've solved your mother-in-law problem!

The newest essay is 1198 on 掲 (to display (esp. in writing), put up (a notice), hoist; mention, carry, publish). Here's a sneak preview:

Have a great weekend!


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