Welcome to Kanji Curiosity | The Basics | Glossary
As we saw last week, 刺 (SHI, sa(su), sa(saru), sa(shi), sashi, toge: to stab, pierce, prick, sting; thorn; business card) primarily means “to stab,” so it plays a role in many brutal words. Examining this kanji, you can quickly have your fill of stabbings, puncture wounds, and the like:
刺し傷 (sashikizu: a stab; puncture wound) to stab + wound
刺し通す (sashitōsu: to stab, pierce, run (a sword) through)
stabbing + to run through
This uses the same kanji as a term we saw last time: 刺を通じる (shi o tsūjiru: to present one’s business card, business card + to transmit). But the meanings couldn’t be more different!
You might think gory stabbings tend to happen in a dark underworld that you’ll never enter. If only that were true. A closer look at 刺 words reveals that humans and animals constantly stab each other. It’s the law of the jungle.
Take, for instance, insects. Have you ever been bitten 20 times in a single summer night? As Rambo once put it, they drew first blood, and second, and third, and then they kept on going, the greedy little buggers.
虫刺され (mushisasare: insect bite, bug bite; sting)
insect + to be stabbed
蜂に刺される (hachi ni sasareru: to be stung by a bee)
bee + to be stabbed
Sasareru is the passive form of sasu (to stab, pierce) and means “to be stabbed.” This passive form appears in both expressions above (though sasare has been truncated in the first word, a noun). The “insect” kanji, 虫, also appears in each term. It’s an autonomous character in the first, whereas it has become the “insect” radical in 蜂 (hachi: bee).
刺身を作る (sashimi o tsukuru: to slice (raw fish))
sashimi + meat, flesh + to prepare (food)
Hooking a fish and then slicing it might qualify as a double piercing-stabbing, though this does not appear in the written language. The verb in 刺身を作る is “to prepare (food),” not to “pierce” or “stab.” Moreover, “fish hook” is 釣り針 (tsuribari: fish + hook), which is full of finely honed metal (金) and seems to have little to do with bloody assaults.
As if it weren’t enough that we pass metal through fish once at sea and a second time in the kitchen, we do it a third time at the table if we’re using forks:
突き刺す (tsukisasu: to stab, pierce, thrust) to thrust + to stab
Kare wa sakana ni fōku o tsukisashita.
He stuck the fish with his fork.
彼 (kare: he)
魚 (sakana: fish)
But from time to time, animals get revenge for all this skewering; they stick it to us in the throat:
のどに刺さった骨 (nodo ni sasatta hone: bone stuck in one’s throat)
骨 (hone: bone)
On top of all this, many humans pierce themselves to create animal images on their own skin. After all, tattoos are another form of piercing, as the characters reveal:
刺青 (irezumi: tattoo) to pierce + blue
Japanese tattoos once involved piercing the skin and inserting blue dye.
The yomi is irezumi? We haven’t seen that 刺 can be read as ire, and indeed it can’t, except in ateji situations. Here’s another way to write irezumi (and one that’s more consistent with the usual yomi of the characters):
入れ墨 (irezumi: tattoo) to enter + ink
As Wikipedia indicates, the nuances of irezumi change slightly, depending on which of the seven (!) kanji writings you use.
If all this violence has gotten you down, it’s high time to cheer yourself up with a Verbal Logic Quiz. Enjoy!