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Let’s start with a quick quiz. What do you think the following might mean?
残生 (zansei) to remain + life
生残 (seizan) life + to remain
To block the answers, I’ll share a photo I took in Los Angeles on Sawtelle Boulevard, a Japanese area that unfortunately extends for just two blocks:
OK, here are the answers:
残生 (zansei: remainder of one’s life) to remain + life
生残 (seizan: survival) life + to remain
Last week we learned that the yomi of 残 are ZAN, noko(ru), and noko(su). As you can see, its on-yomi is at work in these compounds. So is the on-yomi of 生. When we invert each compound, these yomi remain the same. But look how the definitions change! The meaning of 残生 seems intuitive to me. As to why life + to remain = survival, imagine that you’re in an earthquake and a building crushes your leg. You lose a lot of blood, but you survive. Life remains inside you! That turns you into this:
生残者 (seizansha: survivor) life + to remain + person
In the next scenario, there aren’t too many like you:
Sono jishin no seizansha wa nimei dake datta.
Only two people survived the earthquake.
地震 earth + to shake
-名 (-mei: counter for people)
Last week we saw the expression 名を残す (na o nokosu: to be remembered; go down in history, name + to leave behind). In the earthquake sentence, the use of -名 is quite different; this kanji serves as a way to count people more formally than with -人 (-nin).
生き残り (ikinokori: survivor) life + to remain
Now we’re seeing the kun-yomi, though, and okurigana have come into the picture.
English speakers usually imagine survivors to be people. But in Japanese, a company can be a survivor, as well:
Kaisha wa ikinokori o kakete funtō shite iru.
The company is struggling for survival.
会社 (kaisha: company) association + company
賭 (ka(keru): to wager, bet, risk, stake, gamble)
Although this verb means “to bet,” it usually expresses a strong determination to achieve something—a do-or-die attitude. In the sentence above, 賭けて implies that a risk is involved in the company’s efforts to stay alive.
奮闘 (funtō: hard struggle; strenuous effort)
to rouse up + to fight
I would have expected the following word to be about survival, too:
After all, the first kanji is 居 (i(masu): to exist). So shouldn’t this compound be about the remaining days of one’s existence or the way one remains alive after a disaster? Not quite:
居残り (inokori: working overtime; detention (e.g., after school))
to exist + to be left over
Of course, overtime work and school detention are their own disasters, but they’re of a different magnitude than, say, an earthquake!
Fortunately, there’s this to make the overtime work better:
居残り手当 (inokori teate: overtime pay)
to exist + to be left over + labor + to apply
残業手当 (zangyō teate: overtime pay)
to remain + work + labor + to apply
We saw 残業 (zangyō: overtime (work)) long ago in a discussion of 風呂敷 (furoshiki: wrapping cloth). Here’s one more 残業 term that reintroduces 生, one of our star kanji today:
生活残業 (seikatsu zangyō: (working) overtime to make ends meet
(to support one’s lifestyle)) life + lively + to remain + work
This definition reminds me of basketball player Patrick Ewing’s famous comment. There was an NBA strike, because the players wanted more money, even though they already had multimillion-dollar salaries. Ewing explained that basketball players need to make more because they spend more.
More sports talk at the first of the two Verbal Logic Quizzes!