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The Space Between Us: Part 3 of 3

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How much space lies between human beings? Are we naturally gregarious or solitary?

Perhaps we’re not unlike wolves, who nestle tightly in a cave at night, drawing on each other’s warmth, then stumbling out in the morning when there’s no more oxygen. If so, then those jammed together in an Indian tenement slum would seem to have achieved the most natural form of life.

Kanji and Ria, two “wolves” huddling for warmth and safety as they brave the wild.

Kanji and Ria, two “wolves” huddling for warmth and safety
as they brave the wild.

Or are we most naturally ourselves when acres lie between us? Maybe Thoreau knew most about what suits humans—peaceful solitude in which to think deep thoughts. I recently learned of fourteen families in Ohio who collectively bought 620 acres, then placed their houses far apart for maximum privacy. The mission statement for this community emphasizes that independence and individuality are top priorities. As someone commented to me, “It’s the anti-community community.”

I ask these questions about human nature because 人間 (ningen: human being) breaks down as person + between. One could visualize between in a positive sense here. If it materialized, it would look like connective material (strings of glue?) joining people. In that case, between would have a sense of “groupiness.” (Do I sound like Stephen Colbert here?) But with a colder outlook on human relations, one might interpret between as meaning “the space between.” In a previous blog, we looked at as an interval between objects, and one could see human beings as those objects.

Whatever nuance might have in 人間, the word itself has a neutral connotation, just as the English term “human being” does. But various elaborations on 人間 (mostly in the form of suffixes) create certain moods, both positive and negative. You’ll find examples of each in the first Verbal Logic Quiz.

For Verbal Logic Quiz 1 …


A Tale of Friendship

The fundamental question is, can human beings get along or not? As I rifled through Spahn’s dictionary for compounds containing , five words in a row jumped off the page as a unit, immediately suggesting a tale.

We start with 友人間に (yūjinkan ni: among one’s friends, friend + human being). Ah, what a lovely image. One is among friends, and they’re presumably decent human beings. This is a comforting, warming idea in a world where winds can be much too cold.

For a Note on the Yomi of 友人間に

Spahn then mentions 仲間 (nakama: member of a group, personal relations + between). This is again reassuring; the friendships have solidified so much that there’s a definable group.

One joins the group through the process of 仲間入り (nakama-iri), which means “to become one of the group.” This 入り means “to enter, to join, to be accepted as a member,” so there’s a definite feeling of inclusion here.

But what’s this? Spahn next introduces 仲間外れ (nakamahazure: being left out). Oh, what a painful word. You may know as soto or GAI, meaning “outside.” But with the yomi of hazu(reru), means “to be separated.” So 仲間外れ means one is separated from other members of the group, which is to say “cast out,” “shunned,” “shunted aside,” “booed off the field,” and so on.

Then Spahn presents the grand finale to the tale he has unwittingly spun: 仲間割れ (nakamaware: split among friends, falling out, internal discord). Here, means “to split into” or “to lose unity.” So the group has dissolved, with cold, hard feelings all around.

Well, maybe it’s not such a sad ending after all. Wasn’t this the group that pushed our protagonist aside so callously? Just deserts, I think.

On the Overlaps Between , , and


Tests of Friendship

Which is more confusing—human relationships or crazy compounds? Relationships may seem relatively straightforward after you take the next Verbal Logic Quiz!

For Verbal Logic Quiz 2 …

Well, why stop at two Verbal Logic Quizzes? Here’s one more. Enjoy!

For Verbal Logic Quiz 3 …