Today I learned something interesting about an old Japanese word for "twilight," tasogare. Turns out the etymology is ta so kare, 誰そ彼, literally "Who is that?" This is a reference to that unique twilighty level of illumination where you can see that people are there, but not who they actually are. You usually see it paired with -doki ("time", "hour"), so the effect is like "Meet me at the crossroads at the whodat hour."

One related word is kawatare. This comes from 彼は誰, the same question in reverse, but where tasogare was about dusk, kawatare evoked the murk of early morning. Sugimoto Tsutomu 杉本つとむ's Gogenkai 語源海 ("Sea of etymologies") offers Man'yōshū poem #4384 as evidence:

阿加等伎乃 加波多例等枳尓 之麻加枳乎 己枳尓之布祢乃 他都枳之良須母
Of the boat/ that rowed out from the hidden harbor/ In the pre-dawn/ kawatare time/ I have had no word

They do seem to have gotten mixed up a bit later on, though, particularly with reference to twilight where you will see either used.

Bonus: Kawatare Soup.

Popularity factor: 9

language hat:

How reliable is that etymology? Not dissing it or nothin', but it sounds like the folkiest of folk etymologies (see: kangaroo = "I don't understand").


Yeah, it sounds too good to be true, but all the authorities approve, and it doesn't require any anachronisms or anything. Also the fact that it gets paired with "-toki" makes it less unbelievable as something to put in a sentence. I believe it.

Leonardo Boiko:

The nice (?) thing about Japanese is that you can make folk etymologies “official” (??) with the writing system. Even if tasogare was an older word with another source, as soon as they decide to write it with the characters 誰 (who) and 彼 (that, there), its… apparent etymology?… <i>becomes</i> “who is that”.

The Chinese have elevated this trick into an art (though using it mainly for borrowings, without etymological pretensions).

Gen Kanai:

I've never heard anyone in Japan use that phrase except in connection to the 2002 movie with 'tasogare' in the title:



In Japanese though you also get words like "kuchi-biru" which are transparently made up of two parts but written with one kanji because that's how it's was done once upon a time in China.


What, Gen, you don't know any Heian noblemen or Edo novelists?


I thought the same as languagehat, but I hope it's so.

It put me mind of Tasogare no Blues: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8HVh7L-VP5s
(acquired via Metafilter originally, I think)




It took me too long to "get" 面黒い. It reminds me though of the fun to be had by inventing new English set phrases using prepositions. So, "calm down" →"calm up" (be less calm); "freak out" →"freak in" (calm down); &c.

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