JOK Notebook

Spinning My Wheels

This week I managed to tangle myself up in confusion on several occasions, so I thought I'd share the wealth with you! 

What do you think these words could mean?

    1. 本人 (ほんにん)  a. the person himself or herself
    2. 本朝 (ほんちょう) b. this morning
      c. Japan
  d. Korea
  e. Japan and Korea

The kanji are so simple and common, but the answers aren't at all! I'll block them with a preview of the newest essay:

Here are the answers, at least partially:

1.a. 本人 (ほんにん: the person himself or herself; the said person; the very person)        
2.c. 本朝 (ほんちょう: Japan)

That doesn't help much, right? It comes down to what the individual kanji mean. Does 本 represent the same thing each time? And what of 朝, which is usually "morning"?

It turns out that 本 means "oneself" in the first word:

本人 (ほんにん: the person himself or herself; the said person; the very person)     oneself + person

Apparently, 本 means "oneself" only in 本人. The same kanji in 本朝 means something entirely different:

本朝 (ほんちょう: Japan)     my, our + imperial court

Ah, the breakdown indicates what 朝 is doing in that word. It's not "morning" at all but "imperial court," as is also true in this term:

朝廷 (ちょうてい: imperial court)     imperial court + imperial court

Seeing that breakdown made me wonder about the 朝 in the next word:

朝鮮 (ちょうせん: Korea)

That 朝 has to be "imperial court," too, right?

Wrong! A Japanese Wikipedia article says that although various theories exist, the etymology of 朝鮮 is not known for sure. But 朝鮮 definitely means "calmness of the morning," according to the same source. Thus, the 朝 here is just "morning."

By the way, the new essay contains a sentence with this intriguing term:

朝礼 (ちょうれい: morning assembly)     morning + ceremony

Because 礼 can mean "bow" or "thanks," seeing 朝礼 sent my mind down enticing trails, but 礼 is "ceremony" here. That's less earth-shattering, but I still like that morning + ceremony = morning assembly.

Let's move to another area of confusion. I'm ashamed to admit that I can never keep these basic words straight:

自動車 (じどうしゃ: car)
自転車 (じてんしゃ: bicycle)

I'm also mortified that I mix up this important pair:

自動詞 (じどうし: intransitive verb)
他動詞 (たどうし: transitive verb)

When I say 自動詞, I even trip over the yomi because it sounds so much like the one for "car"! 

The last time I talked to my language partner, we touched on all four words, giving me a chance to speak in Japanese about my confusion. (Yeah, that usually lends clarity to a situation!) In doing so, I zeroed in on these problems:

• Both a car and a bike have wheels that turn (転), so 転 doesn't serve as a helpful clue here.

• I understand that 自動車 breaks down this way:

自動 (automatic) + 車 (car)

But a car doesn't drive itself, so 自動 (automatic) just feels wrong.

Ah, my proofreader explained it this way: to grasp how a 自動車 is a car (車) that moves (動) by itself (自), you need to compare a modern vehicle with earlier “cars,” such as horse-drawn coaches, ox carts, and rickshaws. None of those contained a power source—at least not a mechanical one! (I just realized that "automobile" breaks down similarly. Actually, it comes from the French for "self-movable vehicle.")

So much for the transportation side of things As for 他動詞, I can't seem to absorb that term because 他 generally means "other" or "other people," so 他動詞 sounds like it involves someone else. But who?!

My proofreader set me straight again, providing this way of thinking about the issue:

自動詞: a verb (動詞) that generates action by itself (自)

他動詞: a verb that acts on something else (他)—namely, a direct object

Okay, can I at last keep these four words straight? Or will I still say "car" when I mean "intransitive verb"?!

Have a great weekend! And don't forget to check out essay 2063.


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