JOK Notebook

What I Need to Know

Let's start with a quiz, but not the usual fanciful kind in which you needn't know anything beforehand. This is the opposite; it's about what I very much need to know. I'm talking about two constructions with multiple yomi:

• the suffix -中, which one can read as -ちゅう or -じゅう
• the verb 開く (to open), which one can read as あく or ひらく

When does each reading apply? I always take a wild guess, and I inevitably guess wrong. Well, it's time to examine these matters closely and create a thick line in my mind where there's been only blurry confusion, along with considerable anxiety and frustration. I'm taking you along for the ride! Hope you don't mind.

The Quiz

Part I: Have a go at six words containing -中, matching them to the lettered options:

1. 上映中 (じょうえい____: screening a movie)  a. -ちゅう
2. そこら中 (そこら____: all over the place)     b.  -じゅう
3. 海洋中 (かいよう____: in the ocean)     
4. 入居者募集中 (にゅうきょしゃぼしゅう____:
now taking applications from prospective tenants)  
5. 世界中 (せかい____: all over the world)          
6. 一年中 (いちねん____: all year round)  

Part II: Several phrases from Joy o' Kanji essays contain 開く in some form. Match the verb to the proper reading:

7. 歓迎会を開いた
(they) held a welcome party

歓迎会 (かんげいかい: welcome party)

a. あく
b. ひらく

8.  閉じてあるものを開く
to open something that has been closed

閉じる (とじる: to close)


9. 手の内をすっかり開いて見せる
to put all one’s cards on the table (figuratively speaking)

手の内 (てのうち: one’s hand (e.g., in a card game));
すっかり (completely); 見せる (みせる: to show)


10. 空に開いた落下傘
parachutes that opened in the sky

空 (そら: sky); 落下傘 (らっかさん: parachute)


I'll block the answers with a preview of the new essay, which is the source of the phrase about parachutes.

The Answers

Okay, here we go.

1.a. 上映中 (じょうえいちゅう: screening a movie)

2.b. そこら中 (そこらじゅう: all over the place)      

3.a. 海洋中 (かいようちゅう: in the ocean)        

4.a. 入居者募集中 (にゅうきょしゃぼしゅうちゅう: now taking applications from prospective tenants)        

5.b. 世界中 (せかいじゅう: all over the world)    

6.b. 一年中 (いちねんじゅう: all year round)    

7–10. All b. ひらく.

The Rules for -中

It's not enough to have answers, though. One needs rules! So here they are for -中:

a. Read -中 as -ちゅう for activities in progress, as in "X-ing right now" and "while X-ing":

電話中 (でんわちゅう: talking on the phone right now; while talking on the phone)

食事中 (しょくじちゅう: eating right now; while eating)

会議中 (かいぎちゅう: in a conference right now; meeting in session)

外出中 (がいしゅつちゅう: out of the office; while away or out)

使用中 (しようちゅう: in use)

工事中 (こうじちゅう: under construction)

考慮中 (こうりょうちゅう: under consideration)    

貸し出し中 or 貸出中 (かしだしちゅう: out on loan)

That accounts for the following answers:

1.a. 上映中 (じょうえいちゅう: screening a movie), which means "showing right now"

4.a. 入居者募集中 (にゅうきょしゃぼしゅうちゅう: now taking applications from prospective tenants)

b. Read -中 as -じゅう for "throughout a place": 

日本中 (にほんじゅう: all over Japan)

部屋中 (へやじゅう: the whole room)

That accounts for the following answers:

2.b. そこら中 (そこらじゅう: all over the place)      

5.b. 世界中 (せかいじゅう: all over the world)    

c. Read -中 as -じゅう for "throughout a period of time":

一日中 (いちにちじゅう: throughout the day)

That accounts for the following answer:

6.b. 一年中 (いちねんじゅう: all year round)

Just in case things were seeming too simple, here's an exception:

午前中 (ごぜんちゅう: all morning)

A mnemonic may help with remembering this aberration: All morning I chew.

And here's another tricky one:

今週中 (こんしゅうじゅう: throughout this week)

今週中 (こんしゅうちゅう: within this week)

Whereas "throughout" corresponds to -じゅう, "in" corresponds to -ちゅう, prompting another rule.

d. Read -中 as -ちゅう for "in":

水中 (すいちゅう: in the water)

空気中 (くうきちゅう: in the air)

That accounts for the following answer:

3.a. 海洋中 (かいようちゅう: in the ocean)    

I covered much of this in a blog eight years ago, but I'm going over the material again because (1) I keep making these mistakes (to my deep embarrassment!) and (2) I didn't know then about this last rule involving "in." In that earlier blog, I presented two mnemonics, and I'll now add a third to cover the newest information:

Chewing is an activity.
There’s a time and a place for Jews.
I'm in the Chubu region.

I know the middle one sounds anti-Semitic, but as I’m Jewish, I think I’m safe!

The Rules for 開く

Whew! Sorting out the simple-looking -中 took quite awhile, and there's still one more pair to discuss: あく versus ひらく. Whereas I've kicked myself countless times about -中 mistakes, I've been more mystified in this case because I don't think I've ever encountered an explanation about あく versus ひらく. Also, one of my Japanese proofreaders has made several あく/ひらく mistakes, which helps me cut myself some slack but also makes me wonder what in the world is going on with this tricky pair!

The primary difference between あく and ひらく is that あく can only be intransitive, whereas ひらく can be either transitive or intransitive. Therefore, if 開く appears with the object-marking particle を, you can be pretty sure that the verb corresponds to ひらく: 

intransitive: ドアが開く (ドアがあく: the door opens)
intransitive: ドアが開く (ドアがひらく: the door opens)
transitive:ドアを開く (ドアをひらく: to open the door)

You can't sayドアをあく, though ドアを開ける (ドアをあける) works. That is, 開ける is the transitive twin of the intransitive 開く (あく).

The intransitive verbs あく and ひらく are sometimes interchangeable, sometimes not. Although both primarily mean "to open," each has specific meanings that the other doesn't share:

• to be unlocked 
• to be open for the day (e.g., a shop)
• to be emptied 
• to have a vacancy or vacant post 

• to open in all directions like a flower or umbrella (how beautiful!)
• to have a large difference (e.g., in age) 

When I wrote the forthcoming essay 2079 on 瞳 (pupil (of eye)), I learned that a pupil (瞳孔, どうこう) opens simultaneously in all directions, so ひらく is the right verb for 瞳孔が開く. 

The Ultimate Test

Here's the ultimate test. A book title from essay 1806 on 忙 (busy) contains both -中 and 開く! See if you can fill in the two blanks:

忙中漢話 漢字で開く心の扉」
The Stories of Kanji in Your Busy Life:
The Door Where Kanji Will Open Your Heart

忙中 (ぼう___: in the midst of busyness; during the busyness of work); 漢話 (かんわ: stories of kanji); 漢字 (かんじ: kanji); 開く (__く: to open); 心 (こころ: heart); 扉 (とびら: door)

You'll be seeing this book cover again in the forthcoming essay on 扉 (1730: door; title page; hinged door). I love how everything comes together! That also means that if you get something wrong once, you have a great chance of getting it wrong once more when it reappears! Just kidding! You've got this now!

Here are the answers:

忙中 (ぼうちゅう: in the midst of busyness; during the busyness of work)
開く (ひらく: to open)

The -中 is an example of rule a. Read -中 as -ちゅう for an activity in progress.

As for 開く, clearly kanji opens the heart in all directions, as if it were a flower in bloom!

For more of this "yomi confusion," check out a Thematic Explorations post on this very topic. I've added the key points from this blog.

Joy o' Kanji will be on a brief summer vacation. See you in two weeks!


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