Welcome to Kanji Curiosity | The Basics | Glossary
I’ve found the nearly perfect kanji sandwich! Check this out:
徒競走 (tokyōsō: running race)
to go on foot + to compete + to run
What a thing of beauty! If you took the first kanji, 徒, and removed 彳 (a radical that Henshall defines as “movement along a road” and that Spahn has as “to walk a short distance, stop, linger”), you would have a completely symmetrical compound! (Well, it would be symmetrical in the ABA or ABBA sense. Sticklers might argue that true symmetry requires the word to start with the mirror image of 走. But such people are not permitted to take a bite out of my kanji-sandwich joy.)
Tokyōsō is also one of those great Japanese words where a vowel repeats down the line. If you insert one more kanji into 徒競走, you keep the same sound effect while introducing even more fun:
徒歩競走 (toho kyōsō: running race)
to go on foot + to walk + to compete + to run
Together, the first two kanji, 徒歩 (toho), mean “walking.” But whereas 歩 means “to walk,” 徒 can mean either “to walk” or “to run.” Hmm, there’s a big difference between walking and running! Strange to blur the distinction. Maybe this word gives runners a nice “out”; if they get tired and start walking, they can point to the 歩 in 徒歩競走 for confirmation that walking is very much part of a running race.
An Array of Races
競走 (kyōsō: race) to compete + to run
One homonym has a related meaning:
競争 (kyōsō: competition, contest) to compete + to contend
With the change in the second kanji, we’ve moved from running (走: SŌ, hashi(ru)) to a full-on conflict, because 争 (SŌ, araso(u)) means “dispute” and is the latter half of “war” (戦争, sensō: battle + to argue).
The word 競争 shows up inside many other expressions. But let’s choose our battles wisely. This is an essential one:
早食い競争 (hayagui kyōsō: speed-eating contest)
quick + to eat + to compete + to contend
Strange—I thought these contests were relatively recent phenomena. And yet hayagui is a kun-kun compound. Kun-kun combinations sometimes signal that a word is from Old Japanese, even from the time before Chinese characters arrived in Japan. Somehow, though, I doubt that ancient Japanese were standing there in their kimonos, downing one hot dog after another.
Shifting to another contemporary race, we find this word:
軍備競争 (gunbi kyōsō: arms race)
army + to prepare for + to compete + to contend
You may know the second kanji, 備, from 準備 (junbi: preparations, to prepare + preparations). Instead of junbi, we have gunbi (armaments) here.
Long before the problem of 軍備, all humans in all places have faced this kind of “race”:
生存競争 (seizon kyōsō: struggle for existence)
to live + to exist + to compete + to contend
Is it a race against competitors, per se? Or are humans competing less against each other and more against the inherent difficulty of making a living, finding food to eat, and making sure the roof doesn’t cave in, not to mention all the problems that crop up during times of economic and environmental stress? Wow, life is hard sometimes. A struggle for existence indeed. (Can you tell I’m having a rough day?)
Competition in the Workplace
Most of us encounter 競争 in the workplace at some level. It’s built into the economy, as in the following word:
価格競争 (kakaku kyōsō: price competition)
price + status + to compete + to contend
Here’s the inverse of that term:
競争価格 (kyōsō kakaku: competitive price)
to compete + to contend + price + status
A few more words about workplace competition also feature 競争:
One of the more unsettling aspects of competition is when it’s hidden, sizzling beneath the surface but rarely acknowledged. Is it better when everything’s out in the open, as at an auction?
I’m not sure about that, but I do know that the seru yomi of 競 is very cool. We saw it once last week. Here it is in its pure form:
競る (seru: to compete, bid, sell at auction)
Two notable things about this word. One is that the same term means “to bid” and “to sell”?! Why am I still surprised by such words?!
Here’s the other thing: 競る, seru, is by no means a loanword. And yet it sounds just like “sell” would if that became a loanword. In fact, セル means “cell” in the biology sense, though 細胞 (saibō: (biological) cell, very small + membranous sac) is more common and is a VERY cool compound! “Cell” is obviously a homonym of “sell.” So for once a Japanese word proves easy to memorize!
Time for your Verbal Logic Quiz!