JOK Notebook

Scenarios to Avoid

Today let's do a different kind of matching quiz. I'll describe three scenarios. You need to match each one with a Japanese term. To make things more fun, I'll omit breakdowns!

1. You make each other miserable. You should break up. You can't break up. You try, but all you do is grieve for your lost love. You reunite. You fight. You hate each other. You should break up. You can't break up ...

2. You know things aren't right in your body. You've been putting off seeing a doctor for ages, but eventually you make that appointment. He recommends tests, which you undergo. And now it's time to see him again so you can hear the diagnosis. You're so nervous that you keep running to the bathroom. Clearly, you need to do something to steel your nerves. (Thank goodness for that flask of whiskey stashed in your coat!)

3. You pride yourself on the integrity and excellence of your small business. You love what you've created, but you're not making ends meet. They often say of indie movies, "It was a critical success and a commercial failure." That could easily apply to your startup. You somehow endure the poverty for four years, but then your child becomes quite ill, and treatments prove to be costly. When your corrupt competitor offers to buy you out for a small fortune, you have no choice but to accept, even though the acquisition makes you sick to your stomach.

a. 心の準備 (こころのじゅんび)    
b. 腐れ縁 (くされえん)        
c. 涙を呑む (なみだをのむ)    

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

Okay, here we go:

1.b. 腐れ縁 (くされえん: unhappy yet inseparable relation; fatal bonds)     rotten + relations

2.a. 心の準備 (こころのじゅんび: mental preparedness; being braced for; being steeled for)     heart + preparation (last 2 kanji) 

3.c. 涙を呑む (なみだをのむ: (1) to choke back one’s tears; (2) take (swallow, put up with) an insult)     tears + to swallow

I think the breakdowns make the first two answers self-explanatory. And if the 腐 looks familiar but hard to place, you may know it from 豆腐 (とうふ: tofu).

As for 涙を呑む (in which 呑 is non-Joyo), I can imagine that “to choke back one’s tears” was the original definition and that it gave rise to the second meaning, which is figurative and has become more common. With this latter sense of 涙を呑む, one silently tolerates an insult or an unpalatable offer because there’s no other choice. 

Here's an example from essay 1916 on 涙:


Another quiz! What do you think this is saying? How many words can you identify? In particular, where are the word breaks near the を?

I'll block the answer with a photo and caption from the same essay:

When are tears not truly tears? When they’re drops of alcohol!

A type of shochu (a spirit distilled from rice in this case) has the brand name 浦和の涙 (うらわのなみだ: Urawa’s Tears). The product comes from Saitama Prefecture, home to all things Urawa. For example, the soccer team 浦和レッドダイヤモンズ (Urawa Red Diamonds) takes its name from 浦和区 (うらわく: Urawa Ward), once called 浦和市 (うらわし: Urawa City).

One site says that the shochu was created in honor of this prominent soccer team. The liquid represents the bitter tears that fans and players have shed with losses, as well as the happy tears cried with victories.

Incidentally, there's a kind of bath oil called アイヌの涙, or Ainu tears! The Ainu were the indigenous inhabitants of Hokkaido, and they’ve suffered the same tragic fate as many indigenous people around the world. Would you relax if you felt you were bathing in their tears?!

One feature should make the experience even more uncomfortable. The product is hakka (Japanese mint) oil, and just five drops in a bath will make it freezing cold. Thus, the product name could mean that the bath leaves you as cold and tearful as the Ainu people in chilly Hokkaido!

Who would want to take that kind of bath?!

Okay, here's the translation:

In those days, the government was obliged to take an insult and accept the unfavorable conditions.

当時 (とうじ: in those days); 政府 (せいふ: government); 不利 (ふり: unfavorable); 条件 (じょうけん: conditions); 受け入れる (うけいれる: to accept); ざるを得ない (ざるをえない: being obliged to; having no choice but to)

To me, the hardest part is recognizing ざるを得ない as one entity. Whenever a term starts with hiragana, it's a killer, seeming to blend in with whatever precedes it.

In this case, the ざる actually does have a relationship to the preceding 受け入れる, or at least it did. The ざる is archaic syntax meaning "the state of not doing." We can understand the formation this way:

受け入れる (to accept) → 
受け入れず (not to accept) → 
受け入れず + ある = 受け入れざる (the state of not accepting) → 
受け入れざるを得ない (not to acquire the state of not accepting → to have no other option other than to accept) 

In the third step, 受け入れざる comes from the combination of 受け入れず + ある. When zu and aru "collide," the u disappears, leaving zaru.

It may seem from this explanation as if 受け入れる gave rise to the ざる, but actually any negative verb in the past had a ざる form. The phrase ざるを得ない has since become independent, enabling us to explain matters in life over which we have no control. Hmm, that opens the floodgates, doesn't it?!

Have a great weekend!


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