Welcome to Kanji Curiosity | The Basics | Glossary
Today’s blog is going to go all over the place. If that makes you so dizzy that you become sick to your stomach, then you’ve come to the right place, because soon you’ll learn a few ways to talk about that!
Take a look at this sentence (unless you’re eating, in which case you might want to wait):
血 (chi: blood)
見 (mi(ru): to see)
彼 (kare: he)
胸が悪くなる (mune ga waruku naru: to feel sick, to be nauseated) chest + bad, sick
There are a few things to notice here. One is the extremely cool repetition of the 目 shape in 血 and 見! I love that 目 makes a 90-degree turn here. We almost see this shape again in 悪, though that’s a stretch. Anyway, it would be fun to see 目 somersault down a sentence, rotating a full 360 degrees (though if you’re worried about nausea, you may want to put aside ideas of rotation).
Another noteworthy feature is that while the English translation of the sentence is about the stomach, the Japanese sentence seems to be about the chest. It features 胸 (KYŌ, mune, muna-: chest, breast, thorax, inmost heart, mind, feelings), the kanji we’ve examined for the past few weeks. When this character refers to a body part (rather than to a feeling), that part is generally the chest. It took me by surprise that 胸が悪くなる, an expression about nausea, would incorporate 胸, rather than 胃 (i: stomach) or 腹 (hara: belly). So nausea is in the chest? Maybe, but not necessarily; on rare occasions, 胸 refers more to the stomach area. It’s hard to know exactly where this expression locates the feeling.
To find other ways of discussing nausea, see the link.
Or perhaps you don’t want to think about nausea at all! That’s fine! I’m with you there! So let’s try to change the terms of the discussion and see how it goes.
If we take 胸が悪くなる and substitute different hiragana, we produce this informal expression:
胸くそが悪い (munakuso ga warui: disgusting) disgust + bad
Anna otoko mite mo munakuso ga warui.
I can’t bear even the sight of that man.
男 (otoko: man)
見 (mi(ru): to see)
Are you feeling dizzy because we moved from nausea to extreme irritation so quickly? Two notes about that:
1. We didn’t actually make such a big change. One could still interpret this sentence as being about nausea. Another way to translate the Japanese is, “Even the sight of him makes me sick.”
2. You might prefer the topic of nausea to the one I introduced by adding くそ. When くそ stands on its own (as kana or with its non-Jōyō kanji 糞) or when it serves as a suffix, it means “excrement.” (That’s not really the way most of us would say it in English.) In the case of 胸くそ (disgust), I suppose くそ is a suffix meaning “excrement,” but it’s hard to know just what “chest excrement” would be. Vomit? Mucus? If so, does anyone really need to characterize that product as 悪い (bad)? Seems redundant. Suffice it to say that people use くそ as a suffix to indicate disgust.
OK, now I’m going to blow your mind! Take 胸くそ, slice it in half between the units of meaning, flip it around, and stick another kanji in between. Voila:
くそ度胸 (kusodokyō: reckless bravery) extent + feelings
Now くそ has become a prefix. As a prefix, it means “very.” Meanwhile, the yomi of 胸 has shifted from kun (muna) to on (KYŌ). And we’re seeing 胸 in a new word:
度胸 (dokyō: courage) extent + feelings
Rather, I should say we’re seeing it in this word again.
度胸試し (dokyōdameshi: putting one’s courage to the test)
extent + feelings + test
良い度胸 (ii dokyō: some nerve (e.g., “You must have some nerve to …”)) good + extent + feelings
As you may have noticed, having the “nerve” to do something doesn’t incorporate the Japanese word for “nerve” (in the anatomical sense). While we’re on the subject, that word is quite cool:
神経 (shinkei: (anatomical) nerve) mind + to pass through
Halpern says 神 (SHIN, JIN, kami: god, mind) means “mind, consciousness, spirit, soul” here. That blows my mind, consciousness, spirit, and soul, not least because this kanji can also mean “god.” Meanwhile, 経 means “to pass through,” which makes perfect sense in terms of anatomical nerves, because nerves pass through all parts of the body, and electrochemical impulses pass through nerves. But we’re not only talking about anatomical nerves, here, because 神経 can also mean “sensitivity” or “worry.” So both languages hint at some relationship between a “nervous” disposition and anatomical nerves. Is there a true relationship between those things, or is it only linguistic? I don’t think I have the nerve to tackle this daunting topic or to spin off from 胸 any more than I already have!
Time for your Verbal Logic Quiz!