JOK Notebook

You're the Tops

Here's the best thing I've seen all day—a video of an 80-year-old Japanese toy maker who wishes he could live till 200 so he could keep making toys and improving his craft! Check out the joyfulness and whimsy in his creations. You can't top that!

Speaking of tops, I was thrilled at 0:14 to recognize こま, which means "top," as in the toy that spins. This term has an ateji rendering in which the usual meanings of the kanji apply but the sounds don't. Let's do a Quick Quiz! Which of these concoctions could mean "top":

a. 円楽 circle + to have fun
b. 児遊 child + to play
c. 独楽 alone + to have fun
d. 回遊 to rotate + to play

I'll block the answer with the preview of the newest essay:

The answer is c. That is, this is the term for "top":

独楽 (こま: top)      alone + to have fun

While playing with this toy, one can have a great deal of fun (楽) alone (独)!

Indeed, sites here and there say that 独楽 originally meant "to have fun alone." The first linked page says that 独楽 is specific to Japan, and Kanjigen agrees. Meanwhile, the second linked page says that the compound came from ancient Chinese.

As for the こま yomi, we find more disagreement from the experts:

Daijirin and Kojien say that this reading came from こまつぶり. 

Nihon Kokugo Dai-Jiten says it could have come from こまつくり or こまつぶり. 

The こま of こまつぶり or こまつくり means “Goryeo," the name of an ancient Korean dynasty. Apparently, tops came to Japan long ago via Korea. 

As for the つぶり in こまつぶり, Daijirin says that means “round,” which connects to つぶら (円ら: round). Other sources don't provide opinions on this matter.

The word 円ら brings to mind the false quiz options. Although option d, 回遊 (かいゆう), does not mean top (but rather “traveling around” or “seasonal migration of fish”), 回 does indeed matter here. Here's the way to spin a top:

独楽を回す (こまをまわす)     top (1st 2 kanji) + to spin, rotate

Hush Money

Let's leave tops behind but not our playfulness. Check out this great term from the new essay 1086:

口止め料 (くちどめりょう: hush money)     mouth + to stop + fee

Hush money stops the mouth! Oh, how I would love to have the money and ability to stop some people's mouths from running!

I found the term in this sentence:

He has been paying hush money for years because he’s been blackmailed.

恐喝 (きょうかつ: extortion); 被害者 (ひがいしゃ: victim); 何年間 (なんねんかん: many years); というもの (over (the years)); 払う (はらう: to pay)

Right before the reddened word comes this puzzler:

というもの (over (the years))

I would never in a million years expect that hiragana string to carry such a meaning. It breaks down as と (quoting particle) + 言う (いう: to say) + 物 (もの: thing). That doesn't shed much light on how the pieces combine to mean what they do!

The Heart ... and Ways to Stomp on It and Shred it to Pieces

The same essay introduced me to this unexpected term:

思いのまま (おもいのまま: to one’s heart’s content)

I found it in the subtitle of a book:

「恫喝と脅迫の心理戦術 思いのままに相手を操る言葉のレトリック」
Intimidation and Coercion as Psychological Tactics:
Rhetoric with Which to Manipulate the Other Person as Much as You Like

脅迫 (きょうはく: coercion); 心理 (しんり: psychological); 戦術 (せんじゅつ: tactics); 相手 (あいて: other party); 操る (あやつる: to manipulate); 言葉 (ことば: words); レトリック (rhetoric)

That sounds horrible! What's worse, I looked at the image on the cover and initially thought it was of a passive-aggressive therapist who is turned away while smoking during a session!

Given the use of “psychology,” “intimidation,” “coercion,” and “to manipulate” in the title, I took this to be a guide to how to treat therapy patients really badly! I then decided that the cigarette couldn’t belong to a therapist (though I have no idea how therapy sessions go in Japan!).

Anyway, the book appears to be about defeating opponents in business negotiations by using honey, not vinegar.

I feel we've lost a great deal of innocence since our playful foray into quirky Japanese toys, so I'll stop here and won't return for two weeks. Perhaps I can rejuvenate myself in that time!

Be sure to check out essay 1086 on 喝 (to shout; threaten). And have a great second half of July!


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