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So Long: Part 1

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Welcome to summer! With the longest days upon us, it seems fitting to take a look at the character for “long”:

(CHŌ, naga(i): long)

This kanji can also mean “chief, head, leader,” but today, for the most part, I’m only interested in its length. I love how elongates the following things in the most charming of ways:

  (ana: hole)  
  shortarrow.jpg     長穴
  (naga-ana: slot)  
  (en or maru: circle)  
  shortarrow.jpg     長円
  (chōen: ellipse, oval)  
  (kutsu: shoes)  
  shortarrow.jpg     長靴
  (nagagutsu: boots)  
  (isu: chair)  
  shortarrow.jpg     長椅子
  (nagaisu: couch)  

The compound 椅子 (isu: chair) breaks down as chair + noun suffix relating to objects such as furniture. Wow, that breakdown was long even without there to elongate it!

Here’s my favorite transformation:

  (imo: potato)            
  shortarrow.jpg     長芋          
  (nagaimo: yam)         

Yes, that’s true! A yam is longer than a potato! I’d never thought about it before.

It’s as if takes something like this ….


Photo credit: Scott Gutierrez

… and turns it into something more like this:


Photo credit: Scott Gutierrez

Well, not quite like that, but you know what I mean.


Long Body Parts

Given this type of logic, what do you think the following compound means?

手長 (tenaga)     arm + long

On as “Arm” … …

As you might expect, one correct answer is “long-armed person.”

A Truly Long-Armed Creature …

Another meaning of 手長 is “kleptomaniac”! Those long arms just can’t seem to stop reaching out and taking what doesn’t belong to them. And people with that habit might find themselves running from the long arm of the law!

Most likely, such people won’t feel this way:

心長閑 (kokoronodoka: peaceful, at ease)     heart + long + leisure

This is ateji, because neither of the last two kanji have yomi that correspond to nodoka. But those characters do form an autonomous word (one that’s usually written in hiragana):

長閑 (nodoka: tranquil, calm)     long + leisure

By the way, do you associate leisure with a tree () under a gate (), as in ?

If we survey other body parts, looking for length, we come upon this word:

胴長 (dōnaga: long-torsoed)     torso + long

I’ve never seen before. Interesting that it breaks down as same () + flesh), which raises the question, “Same as what?” Henshall says mainly has a phonetic function inside but might also give the sense of something round or big.

If you add two characters, you get … me, unfortunately:

胴長短足 (dōnaga tansoku: having a long torso and short legs)     torso + long + short + legs

And the opposite? This is pretty close:

足長 (ashinaga: long-leggedness)     legs + long

If you add おじさん (ojisan: uncle), you produce a spider:

足長おじさん (ashinaga-ojisan: daddy longlegs)     legs + long

In English, this spider is a father figure. In Japanese, the expression breaks down as “uncle longlegs,” so there’s apparently more of an avuncular relationship.

Well, I wouldn’t want to look like a spider, so I guess I can live with my 短足 after all.

There’s one more long body part to consider:

鼻下長 (bikachō; hana (no) shita (ga) naga(i))
     nose + below + long

The breakdown might make you think this is the same as “to look down your nose at someone.” But that’s 見下す (mikudasu: to look + down). So what could 鼻下長 mean? A long philtrum? Something like the English expression “long in the tooth”? No, there are two definitions, and I can’t tell if they’re opposites or kind of the same thing:

1. amorous man (which sounds creepy)
2. easily charmed by women (which sounds possibly pathetic)

I still don’t know which part is long, but suddenly I don’t want to know!


So Long

Somehow, it seems right to make a short blog entry about length! So I’ll stop here and present your Verbal Logic Quiz. Enjoy both the quiz and the early days of summer.

Verbal Logic Quiz …

As for me, I’m taking time off to enjoy extra-long days. I mean, I’ve been experiencing plenty of extra-long days at the office, but this week, I have something else in mine. By the time you see this, I’ll be bound for England and Norway, where I hope to see sunlight that lasts till 11 p.m. or so. Back with you in two weeks for another short blog about length!