To prepare myself for the big-screen adaptation of Hot Road, Tsumugi Taku 紡木たく's legendary 1980s tale of bōsōzoku bikers and the 14-year-old girls who love them, I decided it was finally time to read the original manga. It's only four volumes long (two in bunkobon format) but it seems to go on forever, like a self-pitying sunset off the Shōnan coast.

It wasn't long before I came upon a word I didn't know: chossē (ちょっせー). It was clearly slang, and seemed kind of playfully derogatory, but what did it mean?

In this "Funky Tsūshin" column from 2007, Yasuda Akihiro 安田明洋 learns from "shun-san", the moderator of a major Hot Road fan site, that the word is roughly equivalent to torokusai, dassē (< dasai), or kakko warī (< kakkō warui), giving it a meaning somewhere around "pokey," "dumb," "lame," etc.

I wonder if it's related to chorokusai (< choroi), which has a similar meaning. Anime-related sources make this claim, but I can't find anything more scholarly.



Poem #225 in the Kangin shū:

Karasu dani/ uki yo itoite/ sumizome ni/ sometaru ya/ mi o sumizome ni/ sometari
Has even the crow/ despising the world/ stained itself an inky black?/ stained its body/ inky black?

Ikeno Kenji 池野健二, editor of Iwanami's 1989 edition of this work, points out that many other poems from around this period compare the plumage of the crow to the traditionally black robes of the Buddhist priest, and that the crow as Buddhist imagery was not unheard of in other contexts.

For example, Nichiren's 1272 "Sado Letter" (佐渡御書) mentions casually that the crow is stained black by its past karma (烏の黒きも [...] も先業のつよくそみけるなるべし), and Nichiren in turn was quoting the Śūraṅgama Sūtra, in which the Buddha uses his knowledge of the reasons for the crow's blackness as an example of his omniscience of causes and conditions. ("阿難。我說佛法從因緣生。非取世間和合麤相。如來發明世出世法。知其本因隨所緣出。如是乃至恒沙界外一滴之雨。亦知頭數。現前種種松直棘曲鵠白烏玄。皆了元由。")

This is the point at which I should offer up some parallel examples from Western culture likening crows to priests, but unfortunately the only one that comes to mind is the second verse of "All This Time" by Sting.


"And you may, O my brothers, have forgotten what these mestos were like..."

Signage in a BorneLund visited not long ago. The room on the left is for changing diapers. The one on the right is for bottle- and breastfeeding.

I'm about 85% sure that the joke is intentional.


Ts'iu kiou sunt in fluminis insula

I just realized that Séraphin Couvreur's 19th-century double traduction of the Classic of Poetry 詩經 into French and Latin is available in its entirety at archive.org: Cheu king: texte chinois avec une double traduction en français et en latin. He even included the original Chinese text!

Because I'm lazy, let's take a look at the very first poem, the one with the onomatopoeia that everyone bangs their shins on. I'll throw in a couple of English versions first for comparison:

Legge (1871)
Guan-guan go the ospreys,
On the islet in the river.
The modest, retiring, virtuous, young lady:
For our prince a good mate she.
Waley (1937)
"Fair, fair," cry the ospreys
On the island in the river.
Lovely is this noble lady,
Fit bride for our lord.
Pound (1954)
"Hid! Hid!" the fish-hawk saith,
by isle in Ho the fish-hawk saith:
"Dark and clear,
Dark and clear,
So shall be the prince's fere."
Couvreur (1892) - French
Les ts'iu kiou (se répondant l'un à l'autre, crient) kouan kouan sur un ilot dans la rivière. Une fille vertueuse (T'ai Seu) qui vivait retirée et cachée (dans la maison maternelle), devient la digne compagne d'un prince sage (Wenn wang).

To be fair, I'd better include his notes:

Le 雎鳩 ts'iū kiōu est un oiseau aquatique. Il ressemble à la mouette ou au petit canard appelé 鳧 fôu. Il est le symbole de la fidélité conjugale. Plusieurs anciens auteurs prétendent que c'est une espèce d'aigle de mer.

T'ai Seu, c.-à-d. l'auguste Seu, était fille du prince de 莘 Chēnn, dont la famille se nommait Seu.

(No guarantees on those last two characters; in the scan, they're basically just blobs.)

And of course the Latin:

Couvreur (1892) - Latin
(Invicem respondentes) kouan kouan (aves aquatiles) ts'iu kiou sunt in fluminis insula. Segregata, abdita, optima puella (facta est) principis sapientis eximia conjux.

As usual, the more translations are compared, the more apparent it becomes that I should have just read some poetry by Ezra Pound instead. Say what you will about his accuracy: "hid, hid!" is definitely the best thing in any of these renderings. I suppose he somehow tortured it out of the "barred door, lock, guarded pass" meaning of 關, even though it's just used for sound here, as Couvreur recognizes. Baxter (1992) reconstructs this osprey-quack as *kron in Old Chinese, incidentally, giving Middle Chinese kwæn (or kwan in Karlgren's reconstruction).

(I have no idea where Waley got "fair, fair" from.)

Special bonus: Anquetil-Duperron's 1804 translation of some Upanishads into Latin ("OUPNEK'HAT (ID EST, SECRETUM TEGENDUM): OPUS IPSA IN INDIA RARISSIMUM").



All I have today is this amazing 1937 recording of the tungso (洞簫) tune "Bongjangchui" (鳳將雛? 鳳雀吹?) by Yu Dongcho (1881-1946, mentioned here).


Suki tte iina yo

Hearing the title Suki tte iina yo repeated about a jillion times over a convenience store PA the other day, I got to thinking about the official English translation of the title: Say "I love you." This is grammatical, and captures the outlines of the original at least, but it strikes me as unnatural.

The main reason it's unnatural is that in a case like this English speakers tend to prefer indirect quotation. For example, I think that as a movie title, "Say you love me" is far more likely than "Say 'I love you.'" (Sidebar: For this particular title, you'd want to capture the infuriating smugness of the imperative form -na yo, so "Admit that you love me" would actually be closer. Digging deeper, it's relatively unusual I think in English for a straight-up line of dialogue, one character to another, to be used as a title in the first place, but whatever.)

Dating and otaku-ing myself a bit (okay, a lot), I remember noticing something similar in the first two lines of the original K-on! ending theme. They go:

Please don't say, "You are lazy,"
datte hontō wa crazy [after all, what I actually am is crazy]

Here, too, I think that the natural English sentence would be "Please don't say I'm lazy," or, better, "Please don't call me lazy." Looking it up now, the title of the song is actually Don't say "lazy", which I strongly suspect is a rendering of an original something like lazy to iwanaide, more naturally Englished as "Don't call me lazy." Indirectness!

Why this difference between the two languages? Ultimately I think it comes down to the fact that (spoken) Japanese doesn't distinguish between direct and indirect quotations in the same way as English. The most natural translation of Iranai to iimashita would probably be something like "She said [that] she didn't need it," but structurally speaking a rendering like "She said 'I don't need it'" is just as valid. Japanese simply does not have the relevant pronoun-usage rules or verb morphology to make this sort of thing clear, and it uses to either way (rather than making an optional distinction with a subordinating conjunction like English).

(I say "spoken Japanese" because of course contemporary Japanese orthography includes quotation marks, and their presence/absence can be used to distinguish between direct and indirect quotations. But this is, I think, a purely orthographic thing; in the language itself, the distinction is very shaky.)

This being the case, it makes sense that native Japanese speakers looking to translate this construction into English would go for the simpler of the two equivalents, i.e. direct quotation. I guess it's basically equivalent to the way native English speakers tend to underuse passive constructions when they first start learning Japanese — the active versions of the sentence aren't grammatically wrong, and since they more closely match the structure of the English they come to mind more readily. A Sprachgefühl thing.