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Don't Eat With Your Mouth Full

Where can we live but days?

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Containing Multitudes
Japanese words often have a wide range of meanings. For example, there's ataru (当たる): I've cut and pasted this from my flashcard program (Memrise - I recommend it). I could have inserted punctuation in the relevant places, but I think the effect is conveyed more feelingly without it:

ataru = to be hit
to lash out at to be affixed to apply to to be a hit to be afflicted to be selected (in a lottery, etc.) (in baseball) to be hitting well (of fruit, etc.) to be bruised to be equivalent to to lie (in the direction of) to undertake to be applicable to be assigned to face to go well to be successful to be stricken (by food poisoning, heat, etc.) to be on a hitting streak to be in contact to confront to be right on the money (of a prediction, criticism, etc.) to treat (esp. harshly) to be unnecessary to be called upon (by the teacher) to touch to spoil to win to strike to check (i.e. by comparison) to probe into (in fishing) to feel a bite to shave to feel (something) out


I especially like words where the meanings include ones that are antonyms or (better still) near antonyms of each other, such as hitting and being hit, or to be successful and to be stricken. Of course, it sends my mind back to English, which has no shortage of similar artefacts, even in this semantic area. To be touched or struck could be a good or disastrous thing, depending largely on who's doing the touching - a god, the heat, elves (as in elf-stroke), genius.

As ever, a big part of the appeal of learning Japanese (and no doubt any language) is to make oneself more aware of the peculiarities of one's own word-weathered mind, carved as it is into eccentric peaks and whorls by the constant swirl of linguistic currents.

The other day, I imagined (or remembered?) an Addams Family cartoon in which Morticia is discovered sprinkling dust over the furniture, and responds to an enquiry, "Oh, I'm just doing the dusting". "To dust" is one of my favourite auto-antonyms, perhaps because it's such a simple-looking, common word. Who cares whether "cleave" means the opposite of itself, when we don't often use it in either sense? But dust? That gets under one's skin.

Very true about learning a language, or even looking up unfamiliar words.

I hadn't noticed that about "to dust" before, but it's a much better example than "cleave" which I don't remember ever using either in speech or writing.

The more different the language is, the more it makes you question your own language, I think. Welsh uses very different sentence structure and also has at least one verb tense that English doesn't have. (A past perfect tense of "to be", basically, "I beed")

I can`t begin to get my head round that! (One way in which Japanese is much simpler than English, let alone Welsh, is that it makes do with only two tenses: past, and future/present.)

In English, we would say, "I lived in Manchester when I was young." In Welsh you'd use the imperfect (I was living...), which is more logical really because the living in Manchester continued for a period of time.

But in English, where you'd say, "I was in Llandudno yesterday," in Welsh this is where you might use the past perfect of "to be", so "I beed..." because the visit was fleeting and you weren't there for all that long. Though you can also use the "I was..." tense too.

Oh, okay, that makes sense! I suppose it's a bit like the difference between "used to" ("I used to live in Manchester") and simple imperfect ("I was in Manchester").

Yes, the Welsh imperfect has more of a sense of "used to", though you can emphasise that by adding the word "arfer" (used to), which then becomes something like, "I was used to be living..."

Aren't languages fun? :)

I was reminded of Lyman de Camp's list of meanings for the word short, which he was giving as an example of the fluidity of English. It was a long list. (And he didn't even get racy, either.)

I once dated a bouncer from a topless bar.

The trouble with topless bars is there's nowhere to put your drink.

Oh, absolutely! about part of the huge fun of language-learning being how it makes one more aware of how one's own language works. I love it! :D

I feel a bit like someone who's suddenly discovered Beethoven at the age of fifty and is bothering their musically sophisticated friends, saying, "You should listen to this guy - he's pretty good!" But it's the first time I've really learned any language except under duress (i.e. at school).

The definition reads like a poem!

Doesn't it just?