Fun fact for the day: Japanese lexicography seems to be in agreement that mimi ("ear") could be used in Old Japanese to mean "news, rumor, thing heard," but all the authorities use the same example — #128 in the Man'yōshū, from Ishikawa no Iratsume to Ōtomo no Tanushi.

吾聞之 耳尓好似 葦若末乃 足痛吾勢 勤多扶倍思
wa ga kikisi/ mimi ni yoku niru/ asi no ure no/ asi yamu wa ga se/ tutwometabu besi
It is just like the "ear" [i.e. news] I heard. My sore-legged darling, you must take care.

I have omitted the pillow-word(s) asi no ure no ("tips of the reeds") from my translation; they are there solely because asi ("reed") is homophonous with asi ("foot"). There is also a note attached to the poem explaining that it was sent to Ōtomo as a sort of get-well message when he had a literal, actual sore leg, which is very helpful.

Let the record show that Ishikawa no Iratsume and Ōtomo no Tanushi had a history of flirtatious banter. In the previous two poems, she complains that she had heard he was a gentleman, but he must be a bit dim not to have taken advantage with her when she dressed up as an old woman to seduce him. * He responds that sending her home that night rather than letting her stay was precisely the gentlemanly thing to do. In their commentary on this poem in the Iwanami Shin Nihon Koten Bungaku Zenshū, Satake et al say that this poem feels like playful teasing from I. no I. in return for O. no T. having rejected her advances; it certainly does seem to refer back to her previous poem — "I heard you were a gentleman, and that was a wash, but this time I guess what I heard is true."

Satake et al also offer the only other proposed example of mimi for "thing heard" that I have been able to find: MYS #2581.

言云者 三々二田八酢四 小九毛 心中二 我念羽奈九二
koto ni ipeba/ mimi ni tayasusi/ sukunaku mo/ kokoro no uti ni/ wa ga omopanaku ni
Spoken in words, it's easy as an "ear." But what I feel in my heart isn't something small.

At first I was dubious about this; couldn't mimi ni tayasusi just mean "it's easy on the ear" or something? But, digging deeper, there are a couple of later poems that combine ni yasusi with koto ("word(s)"). Those poems are #3743 and #3763, both of which start exactly the same way:

多婢等伊倍婆 許登爾曾夜須伎
tabi to ipeba/ koto ni so yasuki...
"Travel" is easy to say as a word...

... and end with reasons why travel actually sucks. Anyway, as evidence for the use of mimi in the "news" sense in #2581, this is a bit oblique, but it satisfied me.

* The note on this poem vividly describes the way she spoke hoarsely, hobbled, etc. as part of her ruse. This would probably strike me as a lot more ridiculous if it weren't almost Hallowe'en and the Internet weren't abuzz with mockery of costumes like "Sexy Ebola nurse," "Sexy banana," etc.

Popularity factor: 2


There was some debate about the etymology of "mimi". Shichiro Murayama (1976, "The Malayo-Polynesian Component in the Japanese Language") claimed that it was cognate with the Austronesian word for vulva.

Roy Miller describes this as "a little unlikely, to say the least."


That's astonishingly mild for Miller. Must have been having an off day!

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