Column #104 Kanji Clinic The Japan Times, July 21, 2010
"Kanji for ebigf is a titan word-builder"


Every year on Aug. 16, at exactly 8:00 p.m., the first in a series of five giant bonfires is lit on a mountainside overlooking the city of Kyoto, signaling the moment when ancestral ghosts return to the spirit world after visiting relatives on Earth during the three-day O-bon festival. The largest and most iconic blaze, on 啶R(Daimonjiyama, Big Letter Mountain), comprises 75 torches arranged in the shape of , a kanji meaning "big."

(oo, DAI, TAI) pictures a headless stick figure with legs and arms spread wide. (Note that the kanji for "person," l, can be seen within ). In addition to its core meaning of "big," possesses a variety of related nuances and serves as a powerful building block in an unending array of kanji compound words.

Used in its literal sense of "physically large," may be found in 嗤 (tairiku, large/land, continent), 卪 (daikon, large/root, Japanese radish), and eS~(sodaigomi, shabby/large/trash, large trash items). U (oogesa, exaggerated) is a combination of and U (kesa), an ornate stole donned by Buddhist monks. ] (dainou, large/brain) is the semantic no-brainer "cerebrum." While Westerners normally associate having large testicles with "daring," its Japanese counterpart _ (daitan, big/gall bladder, daring) is reminiscent of the English expression "has the gall (to do something brazen)."

With an associated meaning of "extreme," is the first kanji in D (daisuki, extreme/liking, love) and 匙 (daikirai, extreme/dislike, abhorrence). v (daijoubu, extreme/height/man), meaning gall right,h traces its roots to the ancient practice of bringing along a tall man for security in threatening situations (a custom that continues elsewhere, too).

(ooyasuuri, extreme/cheap/sale, bargain sale) signs are ubiquitous in Japan. Far from being considered a deadly sin, H (oogui, extreme/eating, gluttony) is a national obsession, with winners of eating contests attaining hero status. 喡 (ooaji, extreme/flavor) is a negative expression for food that is not subtly seasoned.

is also used to describe extreme (i.e., loud) noises, as in 吺 (oogoe, extreme/voice, loud voice). To inform your kids in Japanese that the volume on the TV is too much to bear, you can holler, g傫!h (Oto ga ookii, gthe sound is extremeh).

also can mean gimportant,h as in 厖 (daiji, important/thing, serious matter) and w (daigaku, important/learning, university). 啨 (oomono, important/guy) is a generic gbig shot,h while b (daijin, important/retainer) is a cabinet minister and 哝 (daitouryou, big/united rule/leader) is a president. These two titles are tacked on the end of family names (i.e., Io}哝, Obama Daitouryou, President Barack Obama). 喼 (daimyou, important/name) was a feudal lord in premodern Japan, when (myou) referred to a person subject to taxation on his land holdings.

With a meaning of gmore or less,h is the first character in (daitai, more or less/the body, generally) and Gc (oozappa, more or less/miscellaneous/grasp, rough estimate).

While is usually pronounced "oo" and "dai," or "tai" in compound words, a few notable exceptions--or gspecial readingsh--are l (otona, big/person), which means gadult,h and a (Yamato, big/harmony), the name for ancient Japan.

ڂɌ (oome ni miru, gto look with big eyesh) means to goverlook faults,h and j_ (shinshouboudai, needle/small/pole/big) is gexaggeration.h While English speakers use ga drop in the bucketh to describe a negligible amount, the Japanese say gbig ocean, one droph: CH@(taikaiitteki).

Speaking of oceans, donft confuse with (TAI, futo-i), a near-clone kanji that means ghugeh or gfat.h When writing 吼m (Taiseiyou, big/west/ocean, Atlantic Ocean) and m (Taiheiyou, huge/flat/ocean, Pacific Ocean), is the first character in the former and in the latter. ( was originally written with one atop another to signify gdoubly big,h but now a tiny dot stroke substitutes for the at the bottom). As a memory aid, think of the dot stroke in as the tiny nation of Japan floating in the vast Pacific Ocean.

The quiz below will allow you to explore more fully the remarkable word-building power of the kanji for gbig.h

THE BIG () QUIZ
Match each of the following kanji compounds containing with its meaning and pronunciation.

1.哤 (big/bean)@
2.(big/mouth)@
3. (big/hand)@
4.(big/house)@
5.(big/abnormal)@@
6.啝(big/width)@
7.喇 (big/flat things)
8. (big/meaning)

a. gist (taii) b. soybean (daizu) c.terrible (taihen) d. bragging (ooguchi) e.landlord (ooya) f.major companies (oote) g.large sum of money (taimai) h. substantial (oohaba)


Answers: 1.b 2.d 3.f 4.e 5.c 6.h 7.g 8.a

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