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Going to Extremes: Part 1

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First off, there’s some housekeeping to attend to; I promised that today I would provide answers to the most recent contest and make the winners famous. The top three contestants did a great job. They also happened to be the only contestants! Congratulations to the following people:

Devon Bartlett
Naveh Mazenko
Alberto Sanz (again!)

You’ll find answers and explanations at the link.

Famous Sayings: Answers and Explanations …

These three people deserve credit not only for terrific research but also for feeling motivated enough to do extra work for no material gains. That is, they acted in the following way:

積極的 (sekkyokuteki: assertive, positive, active, willing)
     to accumulate + to go to extremes + adjectival suffix

And being motivated is the opposite of this:

消極的 (shōkyokuteki: negative, half-hearted, passive,
unmotivated)     negative + to go to extremes + adjectival suffix

I’m so impressed that I feel like doing this:

口を極めて誉める (kuchi o kiwamete homeru: to be lavish with praise)     words + extremely + to honor

We’ll come back to these expressions next week. But for now, I want to look at the one kanji they all share: .

 

Compare Yourself to a Penguin!

Here’s a closer look at this crazy concoction and its particulars:

(KYOKU, GOKU, kiwa(meru): extreme, pole)

We actually saw this character once before and investigated its etymology. But I didn’t remember that (or any of the other times I’ve encountered this kanji) when I went to New Zealand over the New Year. At the International Antarctic Centre in Christchurch, I saw in the following sign:

p1020281.JPG

I needed to go all the way to New Zealand to notice this character! That means I had to go to extremes—and to a simulated South Pole. That’s quite appropriate for a kanji that means “extreme,” “to go to extremes,” and “pole”!

The sign referred to cardboard cutouts of penguins, not real ones. But Little Blue penguins do live at the Antarctic Centre:

p1020285-copy.JPG

Here’s the text in the sign again, along with a breakdown:

ペンギンと背比べ!南極に生息する4種類のペンギンの脇に立ち、あなたの身長と比較してみて下さい。
Pengin to seikurabe! Nankyoku ni seisoku suru 4 shurui no pengin no waki ni tachi, anata no shinchō to hikaku shite mite kudasai.
Stand beside the four Antarctic penguin species and see how tall they are compared to you!

背比べ (seikurabe: comparing heights)
     back + to compare
南極 (nankyoku: South Pole)     south + pole
生息 (seisoku: inhabiting; living)     life + to live

Although usually means “breath,” this use of it means “to live.”

種類 (shurui: kind, type)     kind + kind
(waki: side)
(ta(tsu): to stand)
身長 (shinchō: height)     body + length

Height is the length of one’s body!

比較 (hikaku: comparison)     to compare + to compare
(kuda(sai): please do for me)

 

Extreme Positions

In coming weeks, we’ll look at many of these characters and compounds more closely. Until then, I won’t tell you anything further about those plans. That is, they’ll be as follows:

(gokuhi: top secret)     extremely + secret

As the breakdown shows, can mean “extremely.” Some more examples:

極少ない (goku sukunai: extremely few)     extremely + few
極小さい (goku chiisai: very small)     extremely + small
極最近 (goku saikin: very recently)     very + most + recent
極月 (gokugetsu: last month of the year, December)
     extreme + month

Inversions Change Everything! …

In all those words, was the first kanji, suggesting that it’s a prefix that means “extreme.” No, this character can still mean “extreme” when it’s not in the first position:

至極 (shigoku: very, most, exceedingly, extremely)
     utmost + extreme

Just to be on the safe side, let’s put it in both positions:

極々(gokugoku: extremely)     extreme + extreme

Sample Sentence with 極々

If repetitions and rhymes give you a thrill, try this word, which shifts us away from one on-yomi, GOKU, and back to KYOKU, which played a role in the Antarctic sign:

極力 (kyokuryoku: to the utmost, to the best of one’s power)
     to reach the extreme + power

Be sure not to mix this up with 記憶力 (kiokuryoku: ability to remember, to remember + recollection + ability)!

Time for your Verbal Logic Quiz!

Verbal Logic Quiz …

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