Column #94 Kanji Clinic, The Japan Times, December 16, 2008
"Let's dwell on the negative... kanji, that is"


Prime Minister Taro Aso is notorious for making insensitive off-the-cuff comments to the media, and on more than one occasion recently, he has also raised eyebrows for mispronouncing kanji in his scripted speeches. Last month, speaking at prestigious Gakushuin University about the May earthquake in Sichuan, China, Aso tripped over the pronunciation of the third kanji in \L (mizo-u, gunprecedentedh), morphing it into nonword gmizo-yuu.h (YUU is a possible reading for L in other compound words but not in \L).

\L (literally, gnot yet-formerly-existingh) is one of a great many Japanese double- or multiple-kanji compounds beginning with a kanji of negation, and it may be helpful to remember one distinct core meaning in English for the most commonly used of these: (MI, not yet), s (FU, not), (MU, without), and (HI, is not). These four powerful word builders are comparable to the English prefixes gnon-,h gun-,h and gin-.h All have Chinese-derived pronunciations (ǂ, on-yomi) and are typically conjoined with other on-yomi, but may also appear with native Japanese words (e.g., , mihara-i, not yet-paid, unpaid) or foreign loanwords (e.g., XeCh, hisuteroido, is not-steroid, non-steroid).

(MI, not yet), the first kanji in Asofs nemesis, \L, pictures a tree () with a short branch at the top, an indication it is still growing (e.g., not yet complete). (Donft confuse with its near clone MATSU, which has a long upper branch and means gthe last part.h) Kanji following in compounds usually represent an action. Examples are: (mirai, not yet-come, the future), (mitei, not yet-decided, pending), (mikon, not yet-married, single), and N, miseinensha, not yet-grown-years-person, minor).

s (FU, not), the general prefix of negation, is the most frequently used of the four kanji and can be seen in a plethora of everyday words. Dispose of your non-burnable garbage in a bag marked sR (funenbutsu, not-burn-thing). At the convenience store, pay a fee to have larger spi (fuyouhin, not-used-goods, unwanted articles) like broken electrical appliances carted off by your local sanitation department. Need a real estate agency? Scope out a signboard marked sY (fudousan, not-mobile-property, real estate) in your neighborhood. In conversation, you may hear people complaining about law-breaking teenagers, disparagingly known as s (furyou, not-good), and the current economic recession (s fukyou, not-good condition) is on everyonefs lips.

(MU, without) implies a lack of something and is generally followed by noun-kanji. (muryou, without-fee, free of charge), as in z (muryouhaisou, free delivery), is a compound worth knowing. In the supermarket, look for b (mushibou, without-fat-animal fat, non-fat) dairy and Y (mutenka, without-attachments-added, additive-free) packaged food products. (muga, without-ego, selflessness) is a fundamental concept in Buddhism and (mukuchi, without-mouth) is gtaciturn.h (muri, without-logic) means gimpossible,h and a currently popular slang take-off, ۂ (murippoi, impossible-like), translates as gnot likely to happen.h

(HI, is not) depicts bird wings spreading in opposite directions and usually carries a nuance of contrariety, often with strong negative overtones. lԓI (hiningenteki, is not-human-like) means ginhuman.h If you hear a fire alarm, head straight for the (hijouguchi, is not-normal-doorway, emergency exit). 펯 (hijoushiki, is not-normal-knowledge, lacking in common sense) is a word parents frequently use when scolding their 񍇗I (higouriteki, is not-logical-like, irrational), hormone-driven teenagers.

Foreign residents of Japan from non-kanji using countries are known as 񊿎n (hikanjikei, is not-kanji-lineage). Being 񊿎n myself, I have had plenty of kanji-egg on my face owing to mispronunciations, so I sympathize with Mr. Aso over his kanji blunders. Maybe his speechwriters should add furigana (tiny hiragana typed over kanji to indicate their pronunciations) to the kanji that trouble him most.

New to KanjiClinic.com? Start reading archived columns here.(Column #1, "Don't despair--you can put an end to kanji chaos"

QUIZ
Match the following negation-kanji compound words with their English meanings and Japanese pronunciations. Answers are below.

1. s (not-full)
2. (is not-normal-employment)
3. n (not yet-ripe)
4. E(without-work)
5. Sl (not yet-dead-person)
6. (without-limit)
7. s(not-possible))
8. l (without-person)
9. s (not-public-equal)
10. (is not-onefs turn)

a.unfair (fukouhei)
b.dissatisfaction (fuman)
c.a grade of gFh (fuka)
d.unemployed (mushoku)
e. infinite (mugen)
f.unmanned (mujin)
g.inexperienced (mijuku)
h.widow (miboujin)
i.off-duty (hiban)
j.part-time work (hijoukin)

ANSWERS
1.b 2.j 3.g 4.d 5.h 6.e 7.c 8.f 9.a 10.i

Home Previous Columns Book Reviews Other Articles Reader Response Links