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The Short and Long of It: Part 1

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I find (I: will, heart, mind, thought, meaning, sense) to be one of the cutest kanji around. It reminds me of an upright animal with the following assets:

  tatsu.png       A head beneath a beret
  nichi.png         A blocky torso
kokororad.png     Two legs, a long tail that curls around, and … well, just
             pretend we’ve got a male animal in our midst

Put it all together, and you get something like this:


Long-Tailed Weasel
Photo credit: Anne Elliott


No beret, but the tapering of the cheeks matches the lines in ! This long-tailed weasel likely sports a long, flexible tail, even if we can’t tell here.


Short and Sweet

Speaking of length, figures into some unusually short words:

意味 (imi: meaning)     meaning + meaning
意義 (igi: significance)     meaning + meaning
意気 (iki: spirits, morale)     heart + spirit
意志 (ishi: will, intention, determination)     intention + to intend
意思 (ishi: intent, purpose, mind)     intention + to think

Whereas Julius Caesar created the bellicose phrase Veni, vidi, vici (I came, I saw, I conquered), we can concoct softer, more Zenlike versions in Japanese: Imi, igi, iki (Meaning, significance, spirits) or Imi, igi, ishi (Meaning, significance, intent).

Though they say opposites attract, with its ultra-short yomi has paired off with several other short yomi, producing compounds that you can say in a flash:

鋭意 (eii: eagerly, earnestly, zealously)     sharp + idea

This compound consists only of vowels!

辞意 (jii: intention to resign)     to resign + intention

Look at all the letters in the English definition versus in jii!

他意 (tai: another intention, ulterior motive, malice)
     other + intention

I associate tai with a Vietnamese friend (Tai), as well as タイ (Thai) and (tai: red sea bream). Now I see that there’s yet another type of tai, this one rather insidious!

配意 (haii: consideration, thoughtfulness)
     to concern oneself with + mind

If you draw out your Hai! (Yes!), someone might think you mean 配意!

来意 (raii: purpose of one’s visit)     to come + intention

This reminds me of a great Jon Stewart bit about Bush as the “meta-president.” Apparently, Bush thinks he needs to explain his 来意 when he shows up for speeches.

介意 (kaii: worrying about, caring about)
     to give a helping hand + intention

Do you kaii about your raii?

The kanji can even stand alone as its own itty-bitty word! The yomi of that word is, of course, i, translating as “feelings,” “thoughts,” or “meaning.”

Sample Sentences with
as a Lone Wolf …

That’s true, for example, in the following expression:

意を汲む (i o kumu: to enter into a person’s feelings)
     mind + to empathize with

For More on


Long and Sweet

It would be misleading, however, to imply that shows up only in brief words. It also appears in this five-kanji compound:

前方不注意 (zenpō-fuchūi: You’re not watching where you’re going!)

Let’s take this apart backward.

不注意 (fuchūi: carelessness, inattention)

注意 (chūi: caution, being careful, warning)
     to concentrate on + mind
不- (fu-: prefix meaning not)

前方 (zenpō: forward, ahead of where you are now)
     ahead + direction

So 前方不注意 means inattention to the area up ahead. (The breakdown and meaning make most sense when you’re walking backward.)

If a five-kanji compound isn’t long enough for you, try twice as many characters:

注意力不足活動過多症 (chūi-ryoku fusoku katsudō kata shō:
     attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD))

A person with ADHD will certainly lose interest in this word by the third character. But when it comes to kanji, you’re 汲々としている (kyūkyū toshite iru: to be absorbed in, to think only of), so you’re in it for the long haul (which is what 注意力不足活動過多症 requires!). Here’s the breakdown:

注意 (chūi: caution, being careful, warning)
     to concentrate on + mind
(ryoku: power, ability)
不足 (fusoku: lack)     not + to suffice

So far, we’re talking about a lack of ability to pay attention.

活動 (katsudō: activity)     active + to move
過多 (kata: excess)     too much + many

Katsudō kata gives us “excessively active,” or “hyperactive.”

(shō: illness)

This is a suffix appended to the names of some illnesses and disorders. We saw it once before, though not as a suffix.

On that cheery note about illnesses and disorders, it must be time for your Verbal Logic Quiz!

For the Verbal Logic Quiz …