Your Mother as a Bag: Part 2

Friday, February 5th, 2010

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We start with Alberto’s haiku calendar for February, another beauty:

alberto-sanz-haiku-snow-february-ishida.jpg

Wow, this haiku features some complex kanji! Alberto will tell us about the poem in the comments section. Meanwhile, here’s the scoop on the least familiar characters:

(RYŌ, REI, ne, mine: peak, summit)
(SHO, SHŌ, SO, ka(tsu): also, furthermore, moreover)
(KATSU: brown)
(FUTSU, HEI, HETSU, ō(i), ō(u): to cover)

In this list, the first and last characters are non-Jōyō.

Let’s return to a kanji you’ve seen before. As you know from last week, (TAI, DAI, fukuro) often means “bag, pouch.” With that in mind, try to figure out what the following might represent:

1. 買い物袋 (kaimonobukuro)
2. 紙袋 (kamibukuro)
3. ゴミ袋 (gomi-bukuro)
4. 茶袋 (chabukuro)
5. 寝袋 (nebukuro)
6. 箸袋 (hashibukuro)
7. ビニール袋 (binīru-bukuro)

Answers to the Quick Quiz …

How Many Bags? …

All these bags are pretty conventional. Now we venture into the land of the unexpected:

お袋 (o-fukuro: (one’s) mother)

People sometimes write o-fukuro as お母. Given the usual yomi of (BO, haha: mother), this would be ateji.

What’s going on here? In the land of ultra-respect for family and the elderly, people refer to their mothers as bags? According to one English-English dictionary, “bag” is slang for a “woman considered ugly or unkempt.” We typically hear not just “bag” but “old bag.” If you say “She’s a gossipy old bag,” the meaning of “bag” doesn’t seem to change, but now we’ve heightened the sexism and tossed in ageism, as well.

Not so in Japanese, where お袋 is a term of endearment! As Lonnie Wiig commented on an earlier blog, he once saw a sign in Yamagata Prefecture saying that a restaurant specialized in お袋の味 (o-fukuro no aji: (one’s) mother + flavor). This has nothing to do with what one’s mother tastes like. Rather, it refers to homemade flavors—the individual dishes that each woman might produce.

I can’t find anything about the etymology of お袋, but I’m going to have to assume that it relates to the womb as the primordial bag. Just as koalas are known in the kanji sense for their pouches (e.g., 袋熊, fukuro-guma: koala, pouch + bear), a human mother is also nicknamed for her interior “pouch.”

Here’s what Yahoo Japan’s dictionary has to say about お袋. See how much you can understand before turning to the link for the yomi and breakdown:

自分の母親を親しんでいう語。古くは敬称として用いたが、現在では主に男性が、他人に対して自分の母をいうのに用いる。

Yomi and Breakdown of the Words …

A rough translation:

A word expressing closeness with one’s own mother. A long time ago, people used it as a title of honor, but nowadays a man will mainly use it when talking to others about his mother.

The colloquial word お袋 never appears in formal documents, so use it only in conversation. Even in that context, I can’t imagine calling anyone a bag!

Time for your Verbal Logic Quiz!

Verbal Logic Quiz …