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Secrets of the “Secret” Kanji: Part 2

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In English, we speak of “airtight excuses.” This is a strange idiom. “Airtight” means something so impermeable that air cannot pass in or out of it. But how could air pass in or out of an excuse? Are we talking about hot air? No, I think the point isn’t actually the air; the point is the sturdiness of the excuse. It’s so solid that you can’t poke a hole in it, deflating it like a flimsy balloon. Oh, dear, we’re back to air. Well, so be it.

If you’ve confided your most scandalous secrets to a friend, you might hope for something similarly airtight—a hermetic seal around those secrets. Here’s how you can say “airtight” in Japanese:

気密 (kimitsu: airtight)     air + tight

Sample Sentences with 気密

At first glance, this compound might seem to be about secrecy. As we saw last week, (MITSU) can mean “secret,” as well as “dense” and “detailed.” But there’s actually another meaning; as a suffix, -密 can mean “tight.” That’s the case above, as well as in the next, unusual word:

油密 (yumitsu: oil tight (seal, joint, etc.))     oil + tight

It’s tempting to read this as “the secret of oil,” which might mean “the secret location of oil under a vast desert” or something politically hard-edged. But 油密 is again about a hermetic seal, one that keeps oil in place.

If you’re looking for words in which does mean “secret,” you needn’t despair. (Were you despairing? I couldn’t tell. Given the strange medium in which we’re conversing, your feelings seem inscrutable, as if you’ve protected them with a hermetic seal. From time to time, you might consider breaking the seal, much as a character jumped off the movie screen in The Purple Rose of Cairo, interacting with the audience. I might enjoy some company on this side of the screen. Did you ever stop to think of that?)

Sorry … got a bit off track there. At any rate, let’s look at as “secret.”

We’ve already seen one kimitsu (気密). Here’s another:

機密 (kimitsu: secrecy; highly classified information)
     occasion + secret

On the Breakdown of 機密

Sample Sentence with 機密

“A neurosis is a secret that you don’t know you are keeping.” —Kenneth Tynan

Other Types of Secrets …


Except for neuroses (!), secrets are terribly alluring, aren’t they? Secret gardens, secret paths, secret ingredients…. Something in our nature makes us long to know whatever we’re not supposed to know! In that case, this word should be particularly tantalizing:

最高機密 (saikōkimitsu: top secret)
     most (1st 2 chars.) + secrecy (last 2 chars.)

As you likely know, 最高 (saikō) expresses a superlative: “the most,” “the highest,” and so on.

Sample Sentences with Saikō

Here’s the ultimate in secrets, the ultimate (最高の)word with :

密々 (mitsumitsu: secretly; privately)     secret + secret

Seems as if this should mean “top secret,” as well, but instead the repetition of the character (an adjective) somehow creates an adverb!

I’ll let you in on a secret: it’s time for today’s Verbal Logic Quiz!

Verbal Logic Quiz …