JOK Notebook

The Spirit Withdraws

When I wrote about the following image in the newly released essay 2109 on 蜂 (bee; hornet; wasp), I puzzled over two things:

First, should I translate 蜂 (はち) as "bee," "hornet," or "wasp"? The kanji can represent all three insects. 

Second, I found these words in the dictionary:

魅かれる (ひかれる: to be attracted to)
容疑者 (ようぎしゃ: suspect)

But was the suspect attracted to the insects, or were they attracted to her? I've felt afraid of ひかれる ever since I got it wrong—very wrong—in an exchange on Facebook with a new Japanese friend.

I tried to tell her that I was drawn to her because she's so observant. (Among other things, she's a great photographer.) To convey "drawn to," I consulted Breen's dictionary and found this listing:

引かれる; 惹かれる; 魅かれる(iK) 【ひかれる】 (v1) to be charmed by; to be attracted to; to be taken with; to be drawn to

That looked perfect. I used 引かれる. Not so perfect, as it turns out. My correspondent told me this:

この場合のひかれる は、惹かれるですね。引かれるだと逆の意味になります。
In this case, ひかれる is 惹かれる, right? 引かれる has the opposite meaning.

場合 (ばあい: case); 逆 (ぎゃく: opposite); 意味 (いみ: meaning)

I asked my proofreader what had gone awry, and he explained that Breen's listing was fine. However, the base of 引かれる is 引く (ひく), which can mean “to retreat, back up.” Colloquially, 引く can also mean “to become disgusted" or "to be turned off,” he said, adding this: "You may want to envision somebody disgusted who steps backward. Its passive voice 引かれる can therefore translate as 'to disgust somebody' or 'to turn somebody off'—hence, 'to repel.'" He characterized this usage as new slang that came from the entertainment world.

Apparently, I had informed my new friend that I repelled her! (It's possible that she actually understood what I meant but wanted to warn me that 引かれる could also mean something that I certainly didn't intend.) 

I wondered about a connection between what my proofreader had said and the 引ける in the following phrase (which I saw long ago in a text by Kawabata, I think, and then jotted it down so I could explore it in the future):

気が引ける (きがひける: the spirit withdraws, literally; can't bring myself to; feel a reluctance to)    

Yes, said my proofreader, that 引ける is connected to “moving backward,” as well. But treating 気が引ける as one phrasal verb is much more convenient, he said.

With all that in mind, I returned to the task of translating the book title. Musing that insects such as mosquitoes are attracted to certain people more than to others, I figured the title was doing a playful reversal and had the human as the one attracted to insects. Completely unsure of myself, I came up with this:

The Suspect Attracted to Bees

To my surprise, my proofreader said I had it right! Well, mostly. But "bees" needed to be "hornets" because the story is about a religious terrorist in a new cult that uses hornets to attack people in Tokyo and environs! (Who would have guessed?!) Okay, then. My final offer:

The Suspect Attracted to Hornets

Speaking of attraction, I simultaneously feel an attraction and a repulsion right now, and it has nothing to do with insects. I adore any kanji containing the ultra-cute 鬼 radical, so I'm drawn to 魅, which has an array of tantalizing meanings: "to charm, bewitch, enchant, fascinate."

But I'm scarred by my first experience of using ひかれる, and when I think about summoning the courage to try again, 気が引ける immediately comes to mind. My spirit withdraws in the face of fear! What a great expression! 

Here's a sneak preview of the new essay 2109 on 蜂:

Have a great weekend. I dare you to take on challenges without having your spirit withdraw!


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