Sunday, May 13, 2012

(Japanese) Language is Fascinating

This is a series of mostly unconnected thoughts about language.

Thought #1: Idioms
Learning Japanese and having Japanese friends is really bringing English sayings to my attention. I hadn't realized how often we use idioms, or how often those idioms don't seem to make any sense. Like, why do we call the lower back "the small of the back"? Why is something we've done often "old hat"? What makes someone a "saucy minx" and why does no one say that anymore? I think we should bring it back. You know you want to say it, you saucy minx, you.

Thought #2: I bet you didn't know this
"Ain't" comes from "am I not?". True story.

Thought #3: Things
The word for "thing" is mono (pronounced moh-noh).
It can't be applied to everything, but
tabe is eat,
nomi is drink,  
kai is buy, and
ki is wear.
So it makes sense that
tabemono is food (eat-thing),  
nomimono is drink (drink-thing),  
kaimono is shopping (buy-thing), and
a kimono is literally a thing to wear. That's the one that surprised me, it seems like too simple a translation for a piece of clothing that is so elegant.

Thought #4: Another word that makes sense
Te = hand
Kubi = neck 
Tekubi = wrist (It's the neck of your hand!)

Thought #5: Even the germs are more efficient here
In the parts of the US I'm familiar with, there is the Five Second Rule. You know, when you drop something particularly delicious and not at all messy and you would be very sad if you had to throw it away, so you shout, "Five second rule!" and brush it off and pretend it never got dropped.

In Japan, it's a 3-second rule.
It's called the sanbyo ruuru.
(Pronounced like sahn-byoh-roo-roo, the first roo is held longer than the second.)
San is 3,
byo is "seconds," and
ru-ru is how you would say "rule" if your language didn't distinguish between L and R sounds and all your letters but one ended in a vowel sound.

Thought #6: Describing people
If you had to describe your best friend in a Western country, what would you mention first? Probably hair color, eye color, skin tone, and maybe body build. Japanese people don't use those characteristics because almost everyone has black hair, brown eyes, and a similar skin tone and body build. So they often use size of facial features (large eyes, small nose, wide forehead, etc.), length of hair, and height.


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