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Late for a Very Important Date: Part 4 of 4

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In Japan, where they practically time trains down to the second, you might think that nobody’s ever late and that the Japanese wouldn’t need a word for “tardiness.”

Think again! Our old friend (KŌ, GO, ato, ushi(ro): after, behind) provides us with a way to say that. Although 遅れる (okureru) is the main way to write “to be late,” 後れる has the same yomi (okureru) and the same meaning. That’s true, for instance, in this word:

手後 (teoku(re): too late, belated)     hand + after

I have no idea how the breakdown (hand + after) relates to the meaning, “too late, belated,” but as long as we’re discussing 手後, here’s a quick quiz.


Quick Quiz

If 手後 means “too late, belated,” what does its inverse mean? Choose from the lettered possibilities below:

手後 (teoku(re): too late, belated)     hand + after
後手 (ushi(ro)de: ___________)     after + hand

a. With one’s hands (tied) behind one’s back
b. Falling ill after neglecting to wash one’s hands or follow other hygienic procedures
c. Divination method, including palm reading
d. The back of one’s hand

For an Answer to the Quick Quiz …

Another reading of 後手 is gote (outmaneuvered, passive). Doubling that compound yields gotegote, “ending up behind with everything; always being too late (never in time).” A dire situation indeed!

And if you’re always too late, you’ll certainly be late for the fair. Many people must have been, or else the Japanese wouldn’t have coined this expression:

後の祭り (ato no matsuri: too late for the fair; too late)

How did being too late for the fair evolve to mean simply “too late”?! Was it an agricultural type of fair, where one had to grow an enormous kabocha, for instance, before a cutoff date?

Never Do Today …

Japanese has several expressions for procrastination:

最後の最後に (saigo no saigo ni: at the last moment)
     Saigo means “last” and breaks down as utmost + behind)

後にする (ato ni suru: to leave behind; to put off; to postpone)

後ろ髪を引かれる (ushirogami o hikareru: to do something with painful reluctance)     back + hair + to pull

It seems that whereas English speakers say that a difficult process is “like pulling teeth,” the Japanese refer somewhat similarly to “pulling the hairs on the back of one’s head.” I say “seems” because this isn’t quite the right interpretation.

For More on the Pain of Pulling Hair …

Even though these expressions all include , none has a yomi of oku(reru). They all have different yomi, indicating the multitude of ways to say, “Never do today what can be put off until tomorrow.” (That’s my husband’s favorite expression.)

Given that has a strong sense of procrastination and lateness, it’s no wonder that many words with pertain to problems or even failure!

後難 (kōnan: future trouble, the consequences)     after + trouble
後患 (kōkan: future trouble, future problems)     after + afflicted

For a Further Breakdown of


Doom and Gloom

Judging by the compounds in which it appears, the kanji often has a sense of consequences and even of doom! Here’s one of the more striking examples of that:

後腹 (atobara: afterpains, repercussions; consequences; child by one’s second wife)     after + abdomen

The new child is a pain in the abdomen?!

For More on 後腹

But perhaps offers hope in the form of this word:

後厄 (atoyaku: the year following an inauspicious year)
     after + unlucky, disaster

When Queen Elizabeth II lamented that 1992 had been an annus horribilis, she might have taken solace in the idea of an 後厄, a time to follow the present horribilisness. On the other hand, Japanese tradition has it that one must be nearly as cautious in the 後厄 year, because the evil spirit of the horrible past year keeps lingering around the house, rather than clearing out on New Year’s Eve. So we can gather that 後厄 is not a completely optimistic word.

Well, I hope you’ll be optimistic as you tackle today’s Verbal Logic Quiz!

For the Verbal Logic Quiz …