JOK Notebook

A Step Up

Last week and the week before that, I blogged about numerical issues, and now I'm going to wrap up that discussion.

Speaking of wrapping up, I'm writing this late at night, and all I can dream of right now is wrapping myself up in bedcovers. And speaking of counting things, all I've been doing is counting the days until my upcoming vacation. It's been an exhausting week; I found an enormous amount to say about 髪 (hair), an essay that comes out on April 4, and as much as I enjoyed it, I felt as if the endless hair were strangling me at times! My proofreaders put forth a heroic effort in assisting with loads of research, and I'm really proud of what we've produced, but it nearly killed me! Please understand if this blog entry is a bit shorter than usual. (And don't be surprised if it isn't!)

I'll start with a tidbit from the newest publication, which is essay 1167 on 恐 (fear; dread; awe; overwhelmed (e.g., with gratitude); probably):

During the Depression in the 1930s, many wealthy people lost everything in the stock market crash.

1930年代 (せんきゅうひゃくさんじゅうねんだい: 1930s);  恐慌 (きょうこう: panic; scare; consternation); 間 (あいだ: during); 多い (おおい: many); 金持ち (かねもち: wealthy person); 株式市場 (かぶしきしじょう: stock market); 崩壊 (ほうかい: collapse, crash); 全て (すべて: everything, all); 失う (うしなう: to lose)

I knew 年代 was ねんだい, and I knew that 1930年代 meant "1930s," but I wasn't sure whether or not to define 年代 as "decade." My proofreader's answer surprised me: "This 年代 means a unit of time consisting of a round number of years. For example, 1900年代 can refer to 1900–1909 (10 years) or 1900–1999 (100 years), depending on the context. As opposed to this, 1990年代 can only mean '1990–1999' (10 years)."

He's useful! I'll keep him around!

He also clarified something that has long perplexed me and long frightened me (恐!). In Breen's dictionary, I've always seen these two labels for verbs:

一段 (いちだん)
五段 (ごだん)

I never knew what they meant, and I certainly couldn't imagine a connection to the numbers 1 (一) and 5 (五). I had long been aware of two main verb types, so what could these mean?

I finally summoned up the courage to ask him. (I needed courage because whenever I hear detailed explanations of Japanese grammar, they swirl over my head with the intensity of hurricane-force winds, and I immediately glaze over while wondering just how long I can take it!) This time it was worth it and not at all hard to grasp. Here's what I learned.

The 段 refers to the vowel in a syllable. And 五段 represents the type of verb with all five vowels in its conjugated forms. Let's take 書く (かく: to write) as an example, using romaji to see the vowels clearly.

kakanai (negative)
kakimasu (pre-masu)
kaku (dictionary)
kake (imperative)
kakou (volitional)

(The Joy o' Kanji style is to render terms like kakou as kako, which is a valid romanization option. Without it, the pun Joy o' Kanji would not be possible! But in this case it's helpful to break the rule and to see all the vowels represented clearly.)

Incidentally, we can refer to this type of verb as follows:

五段活用動詞 (ごだんかつようどうし)
     5-vowel (1st 2 kanji) + conjugation (next 2 kanji) + verb (last 2 kanji)

Then there's the 一段 kind of verb. Let's look at some examples before trying to form a general rule.

The verb 落ちる (おちる: to fall) features just one vowel in its conjugated forms:

ochinai (negative)
ochimasu (pre-masu)
ochiru (dictionary)
ochiro (imperative)
ochiyou (volitional)

Similarly, 捨てる (すてる: to throw away) features just one vowel:

sutenai (negative)
sutemasu (pre-masu)
suteru (dictionary)
sutero (imperative)
suteyou (volitional)

As you can see, the particular vowel differs from verb to verb but remains consistent through a conjugation. The Japanese represent "one vowel" with 一段 (いちだん).

But wait. Doesn't 段 mean "step"? It does, and I suspect that it came to mean "vowel" in this context as a metaphorical spinoff. That is, when you conjugate, aren't you going down the "steps" of a chart?

Let's refer back to the 書くconjugation:

kakanai (negative)
kakimasu (pre-masu)
kaku (dictionary)
kake (imperative)
kakou (volitional)

The middle "step" in the chart is the letter u, as in the kaku line. The "step" above (上) involves the letter i, and the step below (下) involves the letter e. Therefore, 上一段 (かみいちだん) refers to verbs such as 落ちる that conjugate with only an i. And 下一段 (しもいちだん) is the term for verbs such as 捨てる that conjugate with only an e.

If you thirst for longer linguistic terminology, these words might do the trick:

上一段活用動詞 (かみいちだんかつようどうし)
     above + 1 + vowel + conjugation (next 2 kanji) + verb (last 2 kanji)

下一段活用動詞 (しもいちだんかつようどうし)
     below + 1 + vowel + conjugation (next 2 kanji) + verb (last 2 kanji)

Speaking of going "a step up" or "a step down," the Japanese certainly like to rank things. For instance, they grade the quality of sushi ... and men! Check out these words:

抱かれたい男ランキング (だかれたいおとこランキング: ranking of men with whom you want to share a bed)     to have sex (with a man) + man
抱かれたくない男ランキング (だかれたくないおとこランキング: ranking of men with whom you never want to share a bed)     to have sex (with a man) + man

The verb 抱くmeans "to hug" or "to embrace" but euphemistically also means “to have sex (with a woman)” when the subject is a man. That doesn't match the definitions above because in those cases, we're seeing the passive form 抱かれる (to be hugged). When the subject is a woman, this passive verb means “to have sex (with a man)." I see. Only men can start the "hugging," and women must wait around to be "hugged." But women can certainly take the initiative when it comes to ranking, as we've just seen. Primarily, Japanese women use these terms to assess the attractiveness of male celebrities, not the men around them (unless they hobnob with celebrities!). I'm sure there are tidy charts for all this ranking!

Here's a preview of the newest essay:

Have a great weekend!


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