Monday, April 30, 2012

懐 (what one keeps in one's bosom).

In 習字 I'm working on a really interesting two-kanji set, 澄懐 (CHOU-KAI). Chou (sumu, sumasu, etc.) is about clarity, lucidity; kai is (in a superficial way) about the heart, bosom, interior. So 澄懐 is an appealing set of characters about inner clarity. Apparently there's an art museum called 澄懐堂 (chou-kai-dou) in Mie Prefecture that specializes in Chinese calligraphy.

Chou is notable for its inclusion of 豆, a fascinating radical that's turned out to be a real rabbit hole to pursue because it appears in some 60 kanji, with a range of sounds and meanings (almost none of which relate to beans, although several groups relate to smallness associated with beans). (Admittedly, I really wanted to try writing the 発 radical (癶, the "dotted tent" radical, which fascinates me).

Kai is particularly interesting to me at the moment because it's associated not just with "heart" or "feelings" in a general sense—though, to be sure, its radical is 心—but more specifically with the custom of tucking things into a kimono at the center front, just over the obi. For example, in tea class we keep a little roll of papers handy for sweets, etc.; these are called 懐紙 (KAISHI), literally kai + kami (紙, paper), and when not in use they're kept tucked into the cross-fold of the kimono at front center, right above the obi. So, this kai seems to combine 心 (kokoro—heart, feelings) and 衣 (koromo—clothes or garments), for a larger sense of anything tucked in next to the heart. Not surprising, then, that 懐 has associated meanings not only of "pocket", but also of becoming attached to someone, or yearning for or missing someone. (Reminds me of that time I forgot my kaishi! How I yearned for them!) Henshall says the tsukuri of 懐 means to carry (specifically, in the sleeve—vs by the heart?).

Weirdly enough, if we swap out the heart for earth (土) we get kowasu/kowareru (壊), to break or be broken. Henshall posits that in this case the "carrying" tsukuri is used only for its phonetic value and that the sense is of breaking down/through earthen ramparts.

I wonder whether that right-hand side appears alone or in anything else. Looks like there are older NGU variants (懷 and 壞) but nothing else that really matches up.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

位 (on the enumeration of spectres).

Chuckling about the kanji 位 (くらい kurai, イ I). It seems pretty standard; it's ninben (person) plus tatsu (standing or building), and it carries meanings of rank and hierarchy -- thrones, crowns, decimal places, social standing, grades, tiers, etc. What gets me is its other function: the counting particle used for spirits of the dead! That's funny superficially -- "How many ghosts, exactly?" -- but it also raises an interesting point about counters. Are ghosts people (nin)? If not, then what are they? Would referring to them as つ offend them? And how would one enumerate, say, the ghosts of animals? Or fish? What if you wanted to talk (poetically) about the ghost of an era or a song?

Reminds me of something I read somewhere, years ago, about someone's (perhaps facetiously) expressing humility by using the 匹 counter (hiki, for small animals) to refer to himself -- "I am but one small animal!" Suggests an entire range of expressive possibilities that aren't available in languages that lack counting particles.

Friday, April 20, 2012

美豚? Pun fun!

Work's been so busy lately that I've barely had time to think, so everything I try to post gets stuck in draft mode! But I want to share a neat pun that we're enjoying today at work.

A colleague is wearing this:

He'd been told it was a pun but had no idea what it meant. I got that the kanji were 美しい and 豚 ("beautiful pig") but, though the pig certainly is comely, I couldn't figure how it was a pun. I thought it must have something to do with the on'yomi, the Chinese readings—as puns probably often do, since a single 音 reading can be shared by many kanji and have many meanings. 豚 was probably トン (TON) or ドン (DON); 美 maybe ミ (MI) or ビ (BI). But...huh?

Finally, a fashion-conscious colleague pointed out that that pattern on the beautiful pig is classic to a specific designer—Louis Vuitton. So that's it: 美豚, ビトン, BI-TON, the Japanese pronunciation of "Vuitton".

Google searching suggests that that pun is big in Japan. So, I'm a little slow on the uptake, but now we're all cracking up about it. And I require that shirt!