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If you saw the following word, what would you think it meant?
As you may know, 胸 means “chest,” and 像 often means “image,” as in 心像 (shinzō: mental image, heart + image). The chest and heart are fairly interrelated concepts. So if heart + image means “mental image,” what could chest + image be? A chest x-ray? A man’s image of a woman’s chest? A poor self-image, based on a less-than-robust chest? (This brings to mind comedian John Oliver, who says he has a concave chest and isn’t fit for any sports, though he could always serve as a sail.)
No, it’s none of those things. Instead, here’s the deal:
胸像 (kyōzō: bust (statue)) chest + statue
Turns out, 像 can also mean “statue.” And a statue of a chest is a bust!
Cocaine Bust of Tiger Attack Victim
My first thought: someone created a statue of the victim, using cocaine as the primary material. My next thought (though it involved a lack of subject-verb agreement): a bust (of a tiger, made of cocaine) attacked the victim. The story (which I didn’t read) has to be about the loser who riled up the tiger in the San Francisco Zoo and then got attacked; apparently, he’s now been busted for cocaine possession. But that’s another topic entirely.
Let’s get back to chests—specifically to 胸 (KYŌ, mune, muna-). We’ve already seen this kanji in some words. And as we saw there, words with body parts bring up some uncertainty; are they true anatomical references or figurative descriptions of emotional states? In particular, 胸 can mean two things:
1. chest, breast, thorax (strictly anatomical meanings)
2. inmost heart, mind, feelings (figurative, emotional meanings)
A quiz will bring this uncertainty to light.
A Chesty Quiz
Guess the meaning of the following words. Are they anatomical or figurative?
Quiz results usually appear on a separate page. But if that were the case, we wouldn’t have anything left to discuss today. So let’s examine each result.
1. A Burning Chest
Here’s the question again:
1. 胸焼け (muneyake) chest + to burn
a. heartburn; sour stomach
b. heart that burns with passion
The anatomical answer—answer a—is right:
胸焼け (muneyake: chest + to burn) means “heartburn; sour stomach.”
This isn’t hard to remember, because heartburn is certainly a yucky feeling, and yake sounds close to that.
Then how would you say “heart that burns with passion”? I’m sure there are many ways, but here’s one 胸-centric term:
胸を焦がす (mune o kogasu: to yearn for, pine for)
heart + to burn
See the fire radical at the base of 焦? This kanji (SHŌ, kogasu) means “to burn, scorch, singe, char.” If I say, “I yearn for you,” I’m also saying, “My heart burns for you,” so yearning and burning aren’t as far apart as one might think.
2. The Origin of the Chest
The question again:
2. 胸元 (munamoto) chest + origin
a. breast; pit of stomach
b. center of one’s feelings; seat of emotions
And again the anatomical answer wins out—answer a is right.
胸元 (munamoto: chest + origin) means “breast; pit of stomach.”
But the breasts and the pit of the stomach are quite far apart, even if one has large, droopy breasts. So how exactly does this anatomical indicator work? A native speaker tells me that 胸元 hardly ever refers to the stomach; it means, quite broadly, the chest area.
3. The Bottom of the Chest
Here’s the third question again:
胸底 (kyōtei) chest + bottom
a. diaphragm; solar plexus
b. the bottom of one’s heart
This time, the figurative answer is correct: b.
胸底 (kyōtei: chest + bottom) means “the bottom of one’s heart.”
Then how do you say “diaphragm” and “solar plexus”? Check the link for that.
4. The Valley of the Chest
The final question again:
胸の谷間 (mune no tanima) chest + valley + between
b. one’s heart of hearts; innermost feelings
The anatomical interpretation—a— is right.
胸の谷間 (mune no tanima: chest + valley + between) means “cleavage.”
How poetic to see a valley there! So many men have looked, and so few have seen a valley. This beautiful expression barely seems to qualify as an anatomical term, but indeed it is one. And if you take away the valley and the hiragana, you have another anatomical term:
胸間 (kyōkan: chest; breast) chest, breasts + between
And how about the heart of hearts? Here’s a 胸 word that specifically means “heart of hearts”:
胸奥 (kyōō: heart of hearts; depths of one’s mind)
heart + inmost
Wow, this is hard to pronounce! But if it makes the word seem more familiar, you can probably recognize 奥 in its kun-yomi form as the oku of okusan (wife).
We’ve reached the end, and maybe you’re feeling all quizzed out. Or maybe I’ve conditioned you to expect a quiz at the end, no matter what! In case you’re that insatiable, I’ll oblige!