Welcome to Kanji Curiosity | The Basics | Glossary
Let’s say you encountered this sentence:
You likely know 新聞 as shinbun (newspaper, new + hearsay), so you could read the whole sentence, except perhaps for one troublesome character smack-dab in the center. Trying to work around it, you would have this:
Shinbun wa anata no ___ ni arimasu.
The newspaper is in your … driveway? Birdcage? Thoughts?
Looking at the components of 脇 might help. The “flesh” radical, 月, almost always tells us that we’re talking about the body. So the newspaper is somewhere in your body?!
As for 力, that means “power.” In fact, it was originally a pictograph of a bulging bicep. So we have a body with three biceps!
OK, enough guessing. It turns out that 脇 (waki) simply means “side.” (If you’ve been ardently following the analysis of the penguin sign over the last month, you may have known that already.) Let’s return to the sentence:
Shinbun wa anata no waki ni arimasu.
The newspaper is by your side.
Ah, the newspaper is by your side, not in your side (unless you managed to impale yourself sideways on something soft and pulpy).
But not everything has become clear, because 脇 (waki) is a funny—dare I say “wacky”?—kanji. For one thing, Halpern and Henshall have excluded it, because it isn’t a Jōyō character. Similarly, Denshi Jisho says that 脇 is NGU, meaning “not in general use.” However, Denshi Jisho also deems 脇 “1806 of 2500 most used kanji in newspapers.” Huh?! Wouldn’t that make it very much in general use? And after all, 脇 popped up in a penguin sign meant for Japanese children (unless lots of Japanese adults like to stand next to cardboard cutouts of penguins, comparing heights), so mustn’t this be a well-known kanji?
Adding to the murkiness, 脇 has three meanings:
2. armpit, under the arm
3. back burner
You can write “side” with a few other kanji. More on that at the link.
On the Side
In a blog already chock-full of sample sentences, I’d like to introduce another:
Migiwakibara o shimo ni shite yoko ni natte kudasai.
Lie down on your right side.
右脇腹 (migiwakibara: right side)
右 (migi: right)
脇腹 (wakibara: flank, side) side + abdomen
下に (shimo ni: down, below)
横になる (yoko ni naru: to lie (horizontally))
横 (yoko: side)
This sentence includes two ways of saying “side”: 脇 and 横 (yoko, which also popped up at Other Sides). You might think they’re interchangeable, and in some ways they are; 横腹 (yokobara) is another way of saying “flank, side.” But whereas 横になる (yoko ni naru) is a set expression meaning “to lie (horizontally),” there’s no such phrase as 脇になる.
Another intriguing issue in this sentence: 下 doesn’t have the typical yomi of shita here but is instead shimo. That provides the “down” in “lie down.”
What a complicated sentence for something that’s easy to convey in English!
Only question remaining about this: How would you say, “Flank steak on the side, please”?! (If the flank steak were just a tangential offering, you would have to be having a very heavy meal!)
Off to the Side
Enough hard work. Time for some fun compounds about life off to the side:
脇役 (wakiyaku: supporting role) supporting role + role
Last week we saw that 脇 can mean “supporting role.” This word conjures up images of the theater, where someone “waiting in the wings” for a chance to say his only line would be very much off to the side.
脇道 (wakimichi: side road, digression) side + road
I’m happy that this kun-kun compound (which is likely old Japanese) works on both literal and metaphorical levels, as is true in English. That is, meandering down a side road can mean “digressing.”
脇見 (wakimi: to look away or look aside) side + to look
If you have a dog, you’ve seen this a million times. The dog is in trouble—or you want to take her picture. Either way, she looks off to the side, as if she has nothing to do with the situation at hand. As I’ve come to learn from dog trainers and from the excellent book Calming Signals by Turid Rugaas, looking away is actually a dog’s way of deescalating conflict. So if that’s your dog’s reaction to a preliminary scolding, don’t yell further! You won’t get the eye contact you want!
Kanji in Santa Cruz, California.
Here’s a spinoff word, but the implications change:
脇見運転 (wakimi unten: looking aside while driving; taking one’s eyes off the road ahead while driving)
side + to look + to move skillfully + to rotate
Together, the last two characters mean “driving.” If you see conflict up ahead on a roadway and choose to look away while driving, you’re probably not deescalating the situation.
Time for your quiz! It’s quite out of the ordinary, so be sure to check it out!