Ochi ni

An entry from Makimura Shiyō's Ōsaka kotoba jiten that caught my eye:

Ochi ni (Noun) A corruption of ichi ni ["one, two"]. After the Russo-Japanese war, "Ochi Ni Pharmaceuticals" employed disabled soldiers as drug salesmen, sending them out in groups of three to five to promote their wares by speaking of their war experiences and accompany themselves on the accordion as they sang: "Ochi ni, ochi ni, Ochi Ni's medicine is effective against gallstones, heartburn, munesukashi, stiff shoulders pre- and post-partum..."

I'm not sure what munesukashi was — something to do with chests and emptiness?

Note that there is no systematic correspondence between /o/ and /i/ involved here; I assume that the ochi ni pronunciation was something that the soldiers picked up in training (and possibly exaggerated for theatrical effect afterward).



Elsewhere in Meiji ikō kokugo mondai ronshū 明治以降国語問題論集 ("Anthology of Meiji and later essays on the problem of the national language"), ed. Yoshida Sumio 吉田澄夫 and Inokuchi Yūichi 井之口有一, Itō Keisuke 伊藤圭介 argues in favor of punctuation in an essay entitled Nihonjin no ga/zoku bunshō ni okeru, kutō/danraku wo hyōji suru wo motte hitsuyō to sezaru wa, ichi ketsuji taru wo bensu ("An Argument, that it is a Flaw, that in the literary and popular Writing of the Japanese, it is not deemed necessary to indicate Punctuation and Paragraphs").

In this way, because the Japanese and Chinese texts written by our countrymen, including casual notes, correspondence, agreements, and every other kind of record, lack punctuation and paragraph breaks, their intents and purposes are frequently unclear, and because readers do not go over them repeatedly, the great majority are difficult to comprehend. Is this not a great frustration?」 For this reason, it is to be desired that all the documents of our countrymen, be they the work of women or children, employ all the rules of punctuation. This is true most of all in the case of the official documents of government and the like, because it is desirable that even the lower classes of our nation, unlearned in letters, should be able to grasp the meaning of such documents clearly and without misunderstandings.」

The first time I saw one of his mid-paragraph 」 marks (usually a closing quotation mark in modern Japanese texts), I thought it was a typo, but no. Actually Itō proposes later in the essay that paragraph breaks be marked with 」, so it probably would have been fairer to render it as a pilcrow in the translation. (Note also that in any case my use of "paragraph" for danraku is problematic, and I should probably be inventing some new pseudo-Norman word to use instead, but ain't nobody got time for that.)

Also of note in this book of essays, but not quite interesting enough in the details to bother typing out and translating parts of Motora Yūjirō 元良勇次郎's "Ōdoku jūdoku no rigai ni oite," ("On the advantages and disadvantages of reading vertically and horizontally"), which as part of its examination of the relative readability of vertical and horizontal text is careful to allow for the effects of the nose size gap between Japan and the West. (Ultimately, though, horizontal wins.)



Genbun itchi is often presented, explicitly or not, as an unambiguous improvement in Japanese orthography. Who would oppose a common-sense idea like writing the way you speak, rather than the way Heian courtiers or medieval scholars of the Chinese classics did? Fuddy-duddies, elitists, and the Meiji equivalent of people who comment on Facebook status updates just to correct people's spelling, that's who.

So it was interesting to read a more balanced view of the situation from author Ozaki "Konjiki yasha" Kōyō 尾崎紅葉, in the essay Gikobun to genbun itchi 擬古文と言文一致 ("Pseudo-archaicism and genbun itchi"), included in Meiji ikō kokugo mondai ronshū 明治以降国語問題論集 ("Anthology of Meiji and later essays on the problem of the national language"), ed. Yoshida Sumio 吉田澄夫 and Inokuchi Yūichi 井之口有一. The key passage:

Even when writing the same thing in both genbun itchi and pseudo-archaic style, it feels as if the latter is playing music in the shadows to help you. For taking confused thinking and writing it down clearly from beginning to end, genbun itchi can't be beaten. Pseudo-archaism is more restrictive [不自由], but it can't be denied that it does have a certain ring [余韻] to it. If genbun itchi is like listening to one of Enchō's masterful tales, then pseudo-archaism is like a song. Even the same details can become quite different depending on whether they are simply spoken plainly or presented as an impassioned, tearful plea by someone with a pleasant voice. An ill-fated beauty, sunk in the depths of despair, denouncing the world and cursing the heavens: if this is set to music and sung in a beautiful voice, it will have much more power to move people than if it is simply spoken plainly. This is where genbun itchi comes up short; it does not reward a second reading, the way pseudo-archaicism does. This is why I intend to begin applying genbun itchi in practical areas before using it in writing of literary merit [美文].


The Heart's Desire of a Symbolist

Nothing to do with Japan, but here's "The heart's desire of a Symbolist, done out of the incomprehensible (and presumably improper) French into plain and decent English," one of the "hitherto uncollected" poems in The Verse of Christopher Brennan (ed. A. R. Chisolm and J. J. Quinn):

O let me wither like the leaf
That reddens on the bough;
for dream alas! is all too brief
and Life is but a cow

O leave me like the leaves that lie
and moulder where they fell;
my soul shall be, when I shall die
a damp and mouldy smell

O tuck me in my little bed
(I mean my little grave)
for all I want is to be dead
and buried in a cave

The editors offer this information about the text:

In J.J.Q. papers, in Quinn's writing. Brennan had put a note (for D.O.R.?) at the end:

  "it was the rhyme that made me put
  this line about a cave
  no matter! when the cave is shut
  I can no longer rave."

J.J.Q. is obviously editor J. J. Quinn; D.O.R. is Dowell O'Reilly.

More on Brennan and Symbolism.



Happa wo kakeru is a Japanese phrase meaning, roughly, to bait or insult someone into trying harder. I had always assumed that the happa was the common Japanese word meaning "leaf" or "leaves", and that the whole phrase was some opaque idiom. But the other day I saw the word in print for the first time; it turns out that happa is 発破, a Sino-Japanese word meaning "[controlled] explosion". The original, literal meaning of happa wo kakeru is "set off an explosion," so the metaphorical meaning is quite transparent and roughly equivalent to "light a fire under [someone]" in English.

Once the initial wave of embarrassment had passed, it occurred to me that this might count as an eggcorn. It clearly isn't just a spelling error, either — I really thought that the word was "leaf". And it's structurally equivalent to accepted eggcorns like "way anchor" and "preying mantis". The one snag might be that the "leaf" interpretation of happa wo kakeru doesn't actually make sense. I mean, I assumed that it did; as noted above, I figured the literal meaning "put leaves on someone" somehow idiomatically meant "insult someone into better performance." But I never actually wondered about the specifics.

So is it just a sort of written malapropism? Maybe, but I've always thought of those as isolated errors by an individual, and Google claims to have over a million hits for 葉っぱをかける (the "leaf" version of happa wo kakeru).

That's twice as many as Google claims to have for the correct version, 発破をかける, incidentally. Of course Google hit counts aren't accurate enough to meaningfully compare in situations like this, but it seems quite likely that the "leaf" interpretation is more common than the correct one. Yeah, I'm calling this an eggcorn.



I went to Nagasaki! While I was there I bought a modern reprint of Sakamoto Ryōma's Kaientai's famous Waei tsūin iroha benran 和英通韻伊呂波便覧 ("Basic manual of Japanese-English transliteration").

Here's how the kanbun introduction starts, with a translation by me:

Since the ministers allowed foreign relations, opened the ports and allowed merchants in, barbarians [諸蛮] from the east and west have gathered like clouds and arrived like rain, a thousand ships and myriad boats arriving without end. This is because virtuous deeds travel far. Who will not marvel at this? At this time, when our countrymen have contact with barbarian visitors [蛮客], they have no choice but to use speech and writing. If they cannot communicate in speech, if they are not adept in writing, this will surely cause errors to arise when trading cargo. If such errors arise, can one say that harm to the nation will not thereby arise too?

It also comes with a modern Japanese translation, of which I will share (and translate) two sentences:

お上が諸外国との交流を許し、港を開いて貿易を認めて以来、東西の諸国が我が国を目指すようになった。 [...] こんな時、我が国の人が外国人と接するとき、言語と文字でもってするほかはない。
Since our leadership allowed interaction with foreign countries, opened the ports and permitted trade, nations [諸国] from the east and west have set their sights on our country. [...] At a time like this, when the people of our country have contact with foreigners [外国人], they have no choice but to use speech and writing.

Ryōma The anonymous author sounds a lot more tolerant!

The issue of course is whether 蛮 for Ryōma the author had the same connotations as "barbarian" (its usual contemporary translation) does for us. That is, you could argue — and I think credibly — that the use of 蛮 was meant as an objective descriptor rather than an unjustified insult, even if the ultimate meaning was "barbarian".

On the other hand, it's also true that there were other words for "foreign country". The Sino-Japanese contemporary standard, 外国, is attested as far back as the 927 CE Engi shiki in the Nihon kokugo daijiten's earliest citation. For "foreigner", 外国人 had been available for nearly as long.

So while Ryōma the author might not have been going out of his way to insult the foreigners newly allowed into Japan, nor did he go out of his way to refer to them respectfully. He used 蛮 twice — and he uses it several times more before the two-page introduction is complete — he knew what he was doing. I do not think the case for translating his choices into more politically correct terminology for the present day is very strong.

(If you read Japanese, you can learn more about the book, including some small photographs og pages and a full yomikudashied version of the intro, at this post on 東書文庫通信. Waseda University have also put a very similar book online; pages 4-29 appear to be completely identical.)