Daniel's enlightening liveblog of MURAKAMI Haruki 村上春樹's new novel 1Q84 (suggested pronunciation: "Q-teen eighty-four") during the two or three hours over the weekend he didn't spend napping or eating gigantic sausages has already inspired a MutantFrog post, and here I am, arms morphed T1000-like into sharp hooks, clinging to the bandwagon as well. My topic today, courtesy of H2J, is the unintuitive spelling 抽斗 for hikidashi, "drawer".

The etymology of the word hikidashi itself is obvious: hiku (pull) + dasu (take out), nominalized. So you might expect it to be spelt using the standard characters for hiku (引) and dasu (出), and in fact it often is: 引出し is the first spelling given in the Kōjien. Whence, then, 抽斗?

抽 means "pull out," although nowadays it's often used in a more figurative sense: 抽出, "extraction"; 抽象, "abstraction", literally meaning something like "to pull something out of a (more general) phenomenon". The left side of this character is a hand, but the right is apparently disputed: Kanji gen claims that it's just 由 meaning "emerge from", but the Shin kango rin claims (apparently based on the Kang xi) that it's a simplified form of another character the right half of which was 畱 (留 "stop", pre-simplification), and 畱 in turns means "a deep hole"... and since I can't afford the really good kanji dictionaries yet, I'm afraid I'm just going to have to teach the controversy and leave it at that. But do note that 抽出し, using 抽 as a straight replacement for 引, is another Kōjien-approved spelling.

斗 refers to a traditional East Asian unit of measure for liquid volume, the to (about 18 L in Meiji Japan*), and by extension the implements used to measure such volumes—ancestors of those square wooden boxes called masu in Japan. One famous and early use of 斗 as an object rather than an abstract unit is in "酌以大斗" in this poem. Legge translates it "He fills their cups from a measure"; Jeffrey R. Tharsen [PDF] prefers "He deals [wine and spirits] out with a big ladle." The commentary claims that whatever it is, it has a handle three shaku long, which would be two or three feet depending on era.

So, put together, 抽斗 means "pull-out container, like a box with a handle maybe." Multiple sources assert that it was used in ancient China long before Japanese speakers assigned it, as a two-character unit, to the native Japanese word hikidashi. There is actually another spelling that was imported in the same way and uses a different character for "box": 抽匣. This one died out (or was murdered) during the Meiji period, but its fossil record can be examined in works such as Sōseki's Michikusa, which alternates between the two spellings freely. For of such was Sōseki's individualism.

* Incidentally, this is why 18 L is the standard size for those big red kerosene containers. (Back)

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Not that I recommend violating international treaties or anything, but my elders that have got themselves a Morohashi typically picked up an edition from Taiwan.


"to pull something out of a (more general) phenomenon" ≈ "to derive"


Very cool stuff, especially the bit on the 18 L kerosene jugs. Always wondered why it was 18.

J P S Sharp:

Just a minor note that whilst 抽屉 (chou ti) is now the general term in modern Mandarin, 抽斗 (chou dou) is still used colloquially.


MMS, thanks for the tip on what not to do when visiting Taiwan lest treaties be broken. I'll be sure to keep it in mind

Charles: Interesting proposal... For me, "derive" feels like an alchemical process where something new is created (i.e. getting 2x out of x^2), while 抽 is more like pulling some element, whole and unharmed, from its surroundings -- like getting x^2 out of (x-1)^2 to examine the shape of the graph more simply, say. I wonder if this is anything more than blather, though.



I like your blather. Deriving the quadratic formula, as it is ofted called, is precisely "pulling some element (in this case, a real root) ...from its surroundings" However, in the end it's still rearranging either side of an equality. Lovers of math don't like their algebra being called alchemy. (Now that is blather...)


Hm, I wouldn't want to anger lovers of math.... Let me blather more precisely: there's no straight line "y = 2x" actually there the graph "y = x^2", but "y = (x-1)^2" does contain that exact curve -- it's just moved sideways.

J P S Sharp:

Derivation is possible within any system that has axioms plus rules of inference. It isn't creative in and of itself since what is possible is mechanically bound by what those axioms and rules of inference are. Actually, if derivation were creative, the ultimate creative resource would be a logically inconsistent system because you can derive anything from a contradiction!


Play me off, Keyboard Cat.

Sgt. Tanuki:

抽斗 isn't quite as unintuitive for ひきだし as it might seem. At least not the 抽 part of it. Like you say, 抽 is not just to pull, like 引, but to pull something out of something else: perfect for a drawer. That character is still seen in at least one common usage that refers to physical rather than abstract pulling: 抽選 or 抽籤, putting your hand inside the big glass jar in front of the empty storefront in your local 商店街 and pulling out a raffle ticket.

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