One of the more interesting extinct first-person pronouns of Japanese is shizu. Spelt 賤, meaning "base," or "lowly," this was popular among rakes and wags during the Edo period but is now restricted to certain professions carrying on Edo-period traditions (notably, entertainment).

Before this, it was an adjectival noun with the meanings, well, "base" or "lowly", as seen in this example from the "Yūgao" chapter of the Genji, where Genji lives like common people and does whatever common people do:


Which Suematsu "First English translator of Genji" Kenchō 末松謙澄 renders:

It was on the evening of the 15th of August when they [Genji and Yūgao] were together. The moonlight streamed through the crevices of the broken wall. To Genji such a scene was novel and peculiar. The dawn at length began to break, and from the surrounding houses the voices of the farmers might be heard talking.

One remarked, "How cool it is." Another, "There is not much hope for our crops this year." "My carrying business I do not expect to answer," responded the first speaker. "But are our neighbors listening!"

Well, he divides the dialog up differently, and I hope I haven't offended any farmers (typical viscount), but I think you get the idea.

Anyway, this shizu is commonly etymologically broken down to a /si/ meaning "lower" (thus related to shita/shimo 下, and maybe shizumu 沈む, etc.) and a voiced version of the /tu/ roughly corresponding to modern no in words like umitsuji 海つ路 "sea route."

So one interesting question is whether it is also related to the word shizuka 静か, which in modern usage means "quiet" or "still." /ka/ is just an adjective-forming affix, so morphologically it could be possible. Most sources seem fairly confident in linking /siduka/ to /sidumu/, and /sidumu/ to /sita/, and /sita/ to /sidu/, but there doesn't seem to be enough evidence to declare them all part of the same word-family without any reservations. (Although Orikuchi Shinobu 折口信夫 gave it a go. He argues that the root meaning is "sink," with "lower" being derived later.)

Anyway, if we can relate shizu 賤 to shizuka 静か and shita 下, we would have four words deriving from the same roots but meaning different things:

  • shizugokoro 静心 = "still heart/soul" (e.g.)
  • shizugokoro 賤心 = "base/lowly heart/soul"
  • shitagokoro 下心 = originally "secret heart/feelings" (e.g. in MYS 1308: "komoritaru/ a ga shitagokoro/ ko no ha shiru ramu" = "the leaves on the trees know the secret thoughts I hide"), later "secret intentions" or "ulterior motive"
  • shitagokoro 下心 = "lower heart": the radical at the bottom of kanji like 忘 and 悲 (okay, this one is kind of cheating)

Interestingly, in the essay I linked above, Orikuchi claims that the instances of 下心 in the Man'yōshū should be read read shizugokoro, but I can't find this reading in any modern edition I checked, so I'm not sure if this is a now-abandoned older reading or just Orikuchi being idiosyncratic (he notes even in the essay that others disagree).

Popularity factor: 6


For comparison, Waley has "there was an uncouth sound of peasant voices" and Seidensticker "he was awakened by plebeian voices in the shabby houses down the street." (I haven't actually read either version yet, but even though I know Seidensticker is supposed to be better, every time I compare them Waley seems much more readable.)

L.N. Hammer:

In what way is the correspondence of the archaic genitive つ and the modern genitive の rough? Leaving aside all the other functions of の, I've been unable to tell the difference.


Leonardo Boiko:

@languagehat: Well, “better” is relative. I find Waley very charming in a British-exoticist way, as long as you keep in mind he takes a lot of liberties with omissions and rewriting. When I care for accuracy and scholarship, I go to Tyler. I think Seidensticker became kind of a middle-ground so I don’t have much use for him now.

For completeness here’s Tyler, with a footnote (naturally, since he has an average of one per paragraph):

“On the fifteenth night of the eighth month,²⁶ bright moonlight poured through every crack into the board-roofed house, to his astonishment, since he had never seen a dwelling like this before. Dawn must have been near, because he heard uncouth men in the neighboring houses hailing one another as they awoke.

26.  The great full moon night of the year. In the lunar calendar this date is in autumn.”


Leaving it just to the Nara lexicon, there are a number of si (下) reflexives:
-sidar- (垂る), sidue (下枝)

Also possible are sihani (下土), situuta (下歌), siduwo (賤男) and a few others.


"The great full moon night of the year. In the lunar calendar this date is in autumn"

Lies! Falsehoods!

Sometimes it was the 14th and sometimes it was the 16th. Great deal of variation there, and it's not quite the same as 卅日 which can mean the 29th or 30th depending on the month--basically, cheap easy was of saying 晦日. (Useful when you need the number for a document but don't have a calendar handy.)

... Yeah, I got nothing on shizu.


Thanks for the additional reference translations, folks!

LNH: One difference: /tu/ has a tendency to be attached to times/places (e.g. "夕つ方", "野つ鳥"). But that's not an ironclad rule (e.g. "友つ人"), and yeah, in terms of how to interpret the meaning I can't think of any differences from genitive /no/.

Kindaiichi: siduwo would presumably be related to sidu, the topic of the post... Incidentally, are you leaving out siduka and sidumu because you have reason to consider them definitively not related, or just because there's no evidence (in Nara d.) that they are?

Comment season is closed.