JOK Notebook

Transplanted Cuttings

A quasi-neighbor who often drives by our house wanted agave for his garden, so he asked for some of ours. Yesterday he spent at least five hours with a hand saw, cutting back the exuberantly productive agave that had encroached on our driveway. He then replanted some of the cuttings in our front garden and drove away with a car full of agave, even strapping one atop his car like a Christmas tree. He kept thanking me, but I'm pretty sure I'm the one who benefited! All of his work was free of charge!

By the way, one Japanese word for "agave," 竜舌蘭 (りゅうぜつらん), breaks down as dragon + tongue + orchid! I'm guessing that that's because the leaves are quite pointy (as a dragon's tongue would be), especially those that are still unfurled!

I know much less about gardening than I would like to, so I remain innocently amazed that you can amputate part of a plant and put that cut-off bit directly in the ground, having it take root and regenerate. 

I'm much more familiar with that process in terms of writing because many of my blogs originate as gleanings from my essays! So it is today. Essay 1367 on 叔 (parent's younger sibling) is now out, and I'm going to share with you several of the things I learned from writing that.

Let's start with a quiz. What do you think the following term could mean:

波風を立てる (なみかぜをたてる)     wave + wind + to stand up

a. to have a storm brewing, with the wind whipping up the waves
b. to have floods due to rising sea levels
c. to make trouble
d. to become angry

I'll block the answer with a preview of the new essay:

The answer is c, "to make trouble." Here again is the term, this time with a more accurate breakdown:

波風を立てる (なみかぜをたてる: to make trouble, cause waves)
     wave + wind + to cause, make

The compound 波風 (なみかぜ) literally means "wind and waves" and figuratively means "strife, discord, dissension."

The phrase 波風を立てる appears in essay 1367 in this sentence:

My uncle constantly causes trouble for his family.

家族 (かぞく: family)

That sentence starts with this important keyword from the essay:

叔父 (おじ or しゅくふ: uncle younger than one’s parent)
     parent’s younger sibling + father

That term has a "twin":

伯父 (おじ or はくふ: uncle older than one’s parent)
     parent’s elder sibling + father

Many Japanese people just write these terms as おじ, a word that makes no distinction between the relative ages of the uncles in question. That's fine for general communication, and in fact many native speakers are unaware of the renderings 叔父 and 伯父 and the specific meaning each one conveys. 

The same is true for the feminine counterparts to those uncle terms:

叔母 (おば or しゅくぼ: aunt younger than one’s parent)
     parent’s younger sibling + mother

伯母 (おば or はくぼ: aunt older than one’s parent)
     parent’s elder sibling + mother

That is, many Japanese people write おば for "aunt" and leave it at that.

As essay 1367 explores in detail, what we’re seeing with 伯 (parent's elder sibling) and 叔 (parent's younger sibling) are the remnants of an ancient Chinese system that started with three sons from one family. From eldest to youngest they were named 伯夷, 仲馮, and 叔斉 (in which 夷 and 馮 are non-Joyo). Their names inspired a way of labeling brothers by birth order. In that framework, 伯 meant “eldest brother,” 仲 meant “second eldest brother,” 叔 meant “third eldest brother,” and 季 meant “youngest brother.” It isn’t clear where the 季 came from, but 季 means “ending,” which connects to “last” or “youngest.”

Eventually, the Chinese chose two of those characters, 伯 and 叔, to keep representing members of a family tree.

But 仲 as "second eldest brother" lives on in terms such as this one:

伯仲 (はくちゅう: being evenly matched; being equal with; being on a par with; being well contested)

That word has several spinoffs:

実力伯仲 (じつりょくはくちゅう: two people's being evenly matched in ability)

勢力伯仲 (せいりょくはくちゅう: two sides' being evenly matched in influence or power)

保革伯仲 (ほかくはくちゅう: conservatives' and reformists' being evenly matched in influence and power)

I'm amazed by the linguistic history tucked into these words, a history that is not at all obvious unless one is in the know. 

By the way, Henshall says that 仲 (934) came to mean "intermediary; personal relationship" because it consists of "person" (亻) + "middle" (中), collectively representing "person in the middle" and by extension "a relationship (involving those parties on either side)." 

I want to share two more things from essay 1367, as they both expand on the last blog post, which was on いる and ある. Do you know the kanji for the blue word here:

Is your uncle living abroad?

君 (きみ: you); 外国 (がいこく: foreign country)

Here's the answer:

おいで (御出で: living somewhere, stated in honorific language)

At least that's the definition of the term in the sentence above. More broadly, おいでです (御出でです) is an honorific term for いる (to be, to live), 行く (いく: to go), or 来る (くる: to come).

So that was kind of about いる. Let's shift over to ある, which appears in this sentence from the same essay: 

I owe what I am today to you, Uncle.

私 (わたし: I); 今日 (きょう: today); おかげ (thanks to)

What in the world is going on with the syntax in the first phrase? And why do we see ある, not いる, in connection with 私?

My proofreader called these tough questions, as 私の今日がある is a set expression, and dictionaries don’t help. But he offered these observations:

• 今日の私 means “today’s me" or "the way I am today."

• 私の今日がある literally means “the fact that today's me exists,” which is to say "the fact that I am how I am today."

• People more commonly use the set phrase 今日の私があるのは…, which means "(I'm indebted to you for) being how I am today.”

• "We perceive 今日の私 as a status, rather than a person, so we prefer ある to いる." Aha! This was the most helpful pointer of all.

Catch you back here next weekend.


Did you like this post? Express your love by supporting Joy o' Kanji on Patreon:


Add comment

Log in or register to post comments