Resting their heads

Japanese vocabulary term for today: tako no makura, or "octopus' pillow."

Googling tells me that it is Clypeaster japonicus, a kind of sea urchin and a close relative of the sand dollar. More pictures. Introduction in Japanese. And another. Punny reference in the Marioverse.

I learnt of these charmingly-named creatures via Hitomi Hitsudai 人見必大's 1695 Honchō shokkan (本朝食鑑, literally "A mirror [held up] to the diet of this country"), which, with typical RoboCop-like humorlessness, notes "So called because octopodes are said to use it as a pillow when they sleep. This is probably a joke invented by some woman or child." He also gives another name for the beast: the mochi kai 餅貝, kai meaning "shell[fish]."

Popularity factor: 12


'Octopodes' is an awesome plural for octopus. Is this an alternative to 'octopi' that fell out of favor?


Octopi is WRONG WRONG WRONG. Latinate plurals on Greek nouns? Whatever next! (The OED concurs, in slightly less histrionic tones.)

Leonardo Boiko:

Ah, these women and children, eh? Always amusing with their so-called “humor”.

Octopodes is the plural in Greek, octopuses is the plural in English, and octopi is the plural in ignorance.

In somewhat related news, Jap. students take note that the kanji for makura (枕) is officially in Jōyō now. It’s quite easy to remember if you know that 1) ancient pillows were wooden and 2) the 冘 component is often[citation needed] nicknamed “broken big man”, as in, the big guy from “big” 大 with a broken leg and arms. (Though, acording to chineseetymology.org, it’s actually a man marching under heavy load.)

L.N. Hammer:

Ah, the updated Jōyō list was published? I've been out of touch.

(Not that it matters to me yet -- I'm working off a 1970s list on the theory that even if they shift things around in the elementary grades, I'll get to them all eventually, and there's time later to splurge on new materials instead of haunting the local used book store.)


Leonardo Boiko:

L.N.: It’s no big deal, most of the new additions are very common and you’re bound to learn them by osmosis as you accumulate exposure.


Can we get an indepth ten part blog series on the history of 俺? Or just 誰?

Leonardo Boiko:

Well I’m afraid I can’t do anything other than consulting Henshall and chineseetymology.org, which I expect are well-known for readers of this blog. But I just had to mention this—according to ce.org 俺 is a phonetic-signifier of 亻(sig) + 奄 (phon); the interesting part is 奄 in isolation, a character meaning “cover” (it seems to appear in Japanese as “gasping”? edict lists 奄々 えんえん).

What’s so interesting about it? Well, again according to ce.org, 奄 stands for a man covering his penis with both hands! (I wonder how reliable is this etymology?)

誰 apparently is a simple phonetic-signifier, with 言 (say, or here, “ask”) and 隹 used as a phonetic for “who” (cn. shéi). 隹 is a bird, different from the usual bird 鳥 (click to compare their ancient forms); it is variously called “short-tailed bird” or “ancient bird” and is a common radical.

(Sorry if I’m being patronizing! I have no idea whether you all already know this.)


This is another rundown of 俺 and related kanji. (Leo, I think you mean this link... but according to my link above, the 人 was originally below the 申, so I am dubious.

The 奄々 thing might come from the other meaning of 奄 (in J. at least), "block"... just a guess, though.

language hat:

"Octopi is WRONG WRONG WRONG. Latinate plurals on Greek nouns? Whatever next!"

In the first place, it's the most common English plural, and therefore by definition correct. English is neither Latin nor Greek. In the second place, the Greeks themselves were unclear about how to decline -pous nouns; see http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showpost.php?p=4464243&postcount=26 ("Compare the similar and often synonymous polypus, which is treated as second declension in Latin (plural polypi) even though historically it should be third (plural *polypodes). Furthermore, it turns out that even in Greek it was sometimes treated as second declension.") Let's not have any more peevishness than is absolutely necessary.

L.N. Hammer:

"Ask the bird, Who wants a cracker?"


Maybe we can all compromise by borrowing a different plural marker from a neutral language. I propose reduplication: "Last night I caught three octopusoctopus!"


"Fish" is the plural of "fish" so why do we even need a plural for octopus anyway? "I went to the sushi bar and ate ten octopus."

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