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The Whale and the Fish

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In my first blog for JapanesePod101.com, I sought compounds with a neat repetition of shapes, such as 宝玉 (hōgyoku: jewel, gem, treasure + jewel).

Soon afterward, I found repeating shapes inside 読売 (to read + to sell), which says Yomiuri, as in the prominent newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun. As Yomiuri isn’t a real word, I can’t help wondering if the founders coined 読売 partly for its visual appeal.

Repeated shapes within a compound can be visually arresting. Just look at all these words containing two or more instances of (RYOKU, chikara: power):

  助力 (joryoku: help, assistance)     help + power
  努力 (doryoku: effort)   toil + power
  労力 (rōryoku: trouble, effort)   labor + power
  効力 (kōryoku: effectiveness)   effect + power
  協力 (kyōryoku: cooperation)   cooperation + power  
  動力 (dōryoku: power)   to move + power

Compounds with repeating shapes can also be dizzying, particularly when viewed in a clump, as with this cluster of suns and moons:

  日照 (nisshō: sunshine, drought)     sun + to shine  
  日曜日 (nichiyōbi: Sunday)   sun + weekday +  
  sun
  昨日 (kinō: yesterday)   yesterday + day  
  明日 (ashita: tomorrow)   bright, light + day  
  月明 (getsumei: moonlight)   moon + light  
  明月 (meigetsu: bright or full  
  moon)
  light + moon  

Collectively, such words turn into the visual equivalent of a tongue twister!

In which other compounds does one kanji contain the other? Once I began pondering this question, there was no stopping me. I pored over my dictionary, compiling a list of compounds that fit the bill. Although some jumped off the page, seeming to be appropriate, closer scrutiny revealed that they didn’t make the cut.

For Close but No Cigar …


As my quest for repeating compounds took hold, visions danced in my head. Could 九丸 be a word? Read as kyūmaru, it could mean “nine circles.” Or, since can be a suffix for ship names, 第九丸 (daikyūmaru) might mean “Ship #9” (in which the # comes from the ordinal number prefix ). I’ve devised a list of repeating compounds for the number kanji 1–9 and have tucked this wish list away, in case it upsets you to see imaginary compounds (though some turned out to exist!).

For a Numerical Wish List …

Fortunately, I was able to locate repeating shapes inside some truly legitimate number compounds:

1. (ICHI, hito(tsu): one)
Not surprisingly, the character for “one” is the easiest kanji to find inside others! I limited myself to characters with unattached horizontal strokes. Here’s a sampling:

  一命 (ichimei: a life)   one + life
  一戸 (ikko: one house; household)     one + door,   
  counter for houses
  一元 (ichigen: unitary)   one + beginning,  
  origin  
  一行 (ichigyō: line, row, troupe,
  party)
  one + line (of text)
  一宗 (isshū: sect; denomination)   one + religion
  一旦 (ittan: once; for a moment;  
  one morning; temporarily
  one + morning,  
  daybreak

2. (NI, futa(tsu): two)

  二三 (nisan: two or three)   two + three  
  二言 (futakoto: two words;  
  nigon: double-dealing)
  two + word

Here’s a very cool word that builds on this last compound:

二言目 (futakotome: second word; a topic to which one’s talk constantly turns)          two + word + suffix for ordinals

3. (SAN, mit(tsu): three)

  三国 (sangoku: three
  countries)  
  three +
  country  
  What three countries would
  these be?!
  三世 (sansei: third-  
  generation immigrant
  of Japanese descent)
  three +
  generation  
  Also the name of a great
  restaurant in Hawaii!
  三毛猫 (mikeneko: cat that’s  
  white, black, and brown!)  
  three +
  fur + cat
  How great is this compound
  for the Neapolitan ice
  cream of cats?!

8. (HACHI, yat(tsu): eight)

  八分 (happun:  
  eight minutes)  
  eight + minutes     Not a perfect match, but close!  

10. (JŪ, tō: ten)

  十時 (jūji: ten o’clock)   ten + hours  
  十干 (jikkan: the “10 stems” in an   
  ancient cyclic Chinese number system)  
  ten + dry


In the spirit of summer, I’m offering a bevy of Verbal Logic Quizzes today, all featuring compounds with repeating shapes. Also in the spirit of summer, I’m taking a vacation! As this blog goes live, I’ll be winging off to Europe. Well, that’s one way to put it. Another is that I’ll be a sardine in coach class for half a day!

I’ll be offline all week and unable to answer comments immediately. But I encourage you to leave some anyway, perhaps with suggestions of compounds in which one character is tucked neatly inside the other.

Happy summer! Let the games begin!

For the Verbal Logic Quizzes…