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A Japanese Stimulus Package: Part 3

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It’s always exciting when a foreign language teaches you about your own, and that’s the case with the following word:

激賞 (gekishō: enthusiastic praise)     intense + praise

Sample Sentence with 激賞

I’ve long known (SHŌ) as “award” or “prize,” as in アカデミー賞, “Academy Award.” When I saw “praise” in the definition of 激賞, I was startled. It couldn’t really be a typo, I figured, because there’s no such thing as an enthusiastic prize (though there are plenty of prizes for enthusiasm). Then it hit me that “praise” and “prize” could be connected in Japanese—and perhaps in English, too!

Yes on both accounts! Well, to be perfectly accurate, the English link is looser. Both “praise” and “price” (not prize) relate back to the Latin pretium, meaning “price, value, worth, reward.” And then “prize” has been an alternate spelling of “price.” I never thought about the similarities among any of these words!

Meanwhile, can mean “prize, reward, praise,” and I commend the Japanese for their efficiency in associating one character with all these related meanings.

It’s only fitting to find such exciting interconnections in a word containing (GEKI, hage(shii)). We’ve seen that this character can mean “violent, intense, agitated, sudden,” but that’s not all! It also means “to excite, stir up, stimulate,” as in the following words:

激励 (gekirei: encouragement)     to stimulate + to encourage

感激 (kangeki: moved, deep emotion; impression; inspiration)
     to feel deeply + to excite

I came across this last word when my language partner asked me to edit a business letter he’d written in English. He also sent his original Japanese draft, just in case, and that’s where I found this sentence:

Subarashii eigo no tegami o itadaki, kangeki shite imasu.
I’m really impressed at how great your English is.

英語 (eigo: English)     English + language
手紙 (tegami: letter)     hand + paper
頂く (itadaku: to receive (humble form))

The sentence translation is loose. A more faithful version would be, “I’m really impressed at the English in the letter I received from you.”

As he was taking the whole effort quite seriously, I was surprised to learn that his correspondent was a 10-year-old Korean girl. She had written in English to the Japanese embassy in Korea, and my friend was writing back on behalf of the ambassador, his boss. When it comes to formal communication, English seems to be the common language between the two countries, even though Japanese and Korean are similar in many ways. I was amused to think that the communications had gone through many convolutions—from Korean to English to Japanese to English and (at least in the mind of the little girl) back to Korean. All these twists and turns seemed pointless to me, because my friend could have communicated with her in proficient Korean. Meanwhile, he praised her English but admitted to me that her English wasn’t even that great!

That is to say, the following was not true of him:

大感激 (daikangeki: to be very excited, really moved)
     great + to feel deeply + to excite

When it comes to words about excitement, none seems more exciting to me than this one:

刺激 (shigeki: stimulus, incentive, encouragement, motivation)
     to irritate + to stimulate

I say that because, although its many meanings look similar enough between these parentheses, they seem to have a bewildering variety of applications. Check out its many uses in the following sample sentences (for which you’ll find all the romanizations and breakdowns at one link below).

Meaning: “exciting, thrilling”

It is an exciting city, New York.

Meaning: “stimulus” (i.e., something that spurs an organism into action)

Light is the stimulus that causes a flower to open.

Meaning: “stimulating the economy” (not that this is a distinct meaning, but I thought you’d want to know 経済を刺激する, which enables you to discuss this topic)

Tax cuts are often used as a major fiscal tool to stimulate the economy.

Meaning: “stimulating” (for the mind):

That lecture really stimulated me.

Meaning: “motivation, inspiration”


He keeps a daily journal, and that inspired me to try doing the same thing, but in English.

I got a kick out of her cheerful personality.

The “kick” here sounds like the kick of inspiration (if that arrives in the form of kicks!).

Meaning: “encouragement”

My advice encouraged her.

Meaning: “trigger” (as in setting off someone’s feelings or touching a nerve, emotionally)

We were afraid we might hurt his feelings.

Finally, this one strikes me as the oddest of all. It comes from an essay by Nejime Shōichi on winning a sizable monetary . (I’ve mentioned this essay before.) The prize money came as a huge wad of cash in an envelope, which he placed in his breast pocket. He described the sensation in this phrase, which I’m presenting in a fragmentary way because the sentence is so long:

with it pressing on my nipple through my shirt

Breakdowns of the Sentences …

What does he mean with this use of 刺激?! Should it really translate as “pressing,” as the English annotation of this essay has it? No, lots of other kanji could convey “pressing,” which strikes me as an overly timid interpretation. After all, when I showed this phrase to one native speaker, she said, “Wow! Sounds like a dirty novel!!” Nejime seems to be saying that the money stimulated his nipple—more than, say, a speeding ticket in his breast pocket would have. I know money is a big turn-on for some people, but that’s taking it to new levels!

Time for your Verbal Logic Quiz!

Verbal Logic Quiz …