Wordcatcher Tales: Shiridako, Dani

After arriving at Chubu International Airport and overnighting in a business hotel near Nagoya Station, we initiated our Japan Rail Passes and headed straight for Hiroshima, eating mini ekiben for breakfast. We arrived on the Hikari around 10 am, stashed our bags in a coin locker, and hopped the next local for Miyajimaguchi, where we caught the JR ferry to Itsukushima. After wandering along the waterfront a bit, we took the Miyajima Ropeway up to its terminus, where a sign warned us “Now, monkeys are around here“! And so they were. Most seemed to be on siesta, but that didn’t keep us from indulging in a few linguistic monkeyshines.

Japanese macaque body chart, Mt. Misen, Miyajima尻胼胝 shiridako ‘ischial callosities, butt callus’ – The “Japanese monkey body” chart (at right) taught me yet another homonym for tako, in addition to 蛸 ‘octopus’ and 凧 ‘kite’. The term shiridako ‘ischial callosities’ is written in katakana on the chart, but tako ‘callus’ or ‘callosities’ can also be written with kanji: 胼胝 (Sino-Japanese) hen + chi, each of which means ‘callus, corn’. (When I was a kid, I thought chirigami ‘scrap paper [塵紙], toilet paper’ was shirigami [尻紙] ‘ass paper’.) How many of my readers (apart from Matt of No-sword) knew how to translate ‘ischial callosities’ into Japanese?

Monkey grooming deer, Miyajimaダニ dani ‘tick, mite’ – We saw a monkey extracting a tick from a deer’s ear, and a nearby park employee explained that the monkeys rarely get ticks because they groom each so often (he used the word グルーミング guruumingu), but that the deer can’t keep the ticks off so well. Fortunately, the monkeys are willing to help. We saw the monkey in the photo roll the tick between its palms after extracting it, as if it was cleaning it to eat, but the employee said the monkeys don’t eat the ticks. The word he used for ‘tick’ was dani, which actually covers both ticks and mites (the Acari subclass of Arachnids). It can be written with several different kanji: 蜱, 螕, 壁蝨. The literal meaning of the last combination is ‘wall-lice’ kabe-shirami and the only compound listed under the last kanji in my New Nelson character dictionary is 蝨潰し shiramitsubushi ni (lit. ‘lice-crushingly’) ‘one by one, individually’.

The park employee had been sitting next to a whiteboard on which tourists from various places had written “Do not feed the monkeys” (or some variation thereof) in a score of languages. I asked him whether I could add another couple of languages to the signboard. He said I would first have to write them down in his notebook first, so that he could recreate the corresponding text if it got wiped off the sign. So I wrote two new entries in his notebook, providing rough glosses for each significant morpheme. He said the Romanian should go with the other European languages in the right column, and the Tok Pisin should go with the Asian and other languages on the left column. Here’s what the sign looked like after I finished.

"Don't feed the monkeys" in two dozen languages, Mt. Misen, Miyajima

1 Comment

Filed under Japan, language

One response to “Wordcatcher Tales: Shiridako, Dani

  1. I probably wouldn’t have gotten “ischial callosities,” but might have had a chance at “ass callus.”

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