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Column #14 Kanji Clinic, The Japan Times, January 11, 2002
"The wonderful ways in which kanji can form new words"

A fascinating and challenging aspect of Sino-Japanese characters is their ability to be combined to form compound words (jukugo). A single kanji often stands alone to represent an individual word. But of the 1,945 general-use characters, over 25 percent are never, or hardly ever, used alone. Countless Japanese words are jukugo composed of two (the majority), three, or more characters.

Kanji are bursting with creative power. You can find the brand-new jukugo –³ô•Ä (musenmai, no-rinse rice), for example, written at your local Japanese supermarket. New compounds like Šw‹‰•ö‰ó (gakkyuuhoukai, classroom breakdown) and ‰‡•ŒðÛ (enjoukousai, schoolgirls "dating" older men for money) make regular debuts as the need for them arises.

We foreign kanji learners must-- like our Japanese counterparts-- be able to accurately guess the meaning of unfamiliar compounds. Often, because each kanji in a compound means something distinct, the sense of the resulting word is obvious. As one seasonal example, “~ (winter) added to –° (sleep) means... you guessed it: hibernation (toumin).

The other piece of good news is that jukugo are not put together randomly: A limited number of patterns can be discerned. Familiarity with jukugo patterns, including the following eight major ones, may enable you, as they have me, to become more adept at guessing the meanings of two-character compounds:

“¤ beans + •… rot = “¤•… tofu (toufu)
’n earth + k shake = ’nk earthquake (jishin)
e gun + ŽE kill = eŽE execute by firing squad (juusatsu)

‹Ö prohibit + ‰Œ smoke = ‹Ö‰Œ no smoking (kin'en)
”ð avoid + ”D pregnancy= ”ð”D contraception (hinin)
•Ô return + ‹à money = •Ô‹à repayment (henkin)

3. MODIFIER (noun or adjective)-NOUN
‘ nation + Œê language = ‘Œê the Japanese language (kokugo)
¹ holy + í war = ¹í holy war (seisen)
’© morning + H food = ’©H breakfast (choushoku)

–¢ not yet + ¥ wed = –¢¥ unmarried (mikon)
”ñ is not + í normal = ”ñí emergency (hijou)
•s not + –¾ clear = •s–¾ obscure (fumei)

Žž time + Žž time= ŽžX sometimes (tokidoki)
F color + Fcolor = FX various (iroiro)
—m ocean + —m ocean = —m—m vast (youyou)

“¹ road + ˜H route = “¹˜H road (douro)
—ö passion + ˆ¤ love = —öˆ¤ romantic love (ren'ai)
Šæ obstinate + ŒÅ firm = ŠæŒÅ stubborn (ganko)

ã up + ‰º down = ã‰º up and down (jouge)
–œ ten thousand + ˆê one = –œˆê unlikely event (man'ichi)
–µ spear + ‚ shield = –µ‚ contradiction (mujun)

‚“™ high-grade + ŠwZ school = ‚Z high school (koukou)
“ú–{ Japan + ŒoÏ economics = “úŒo Nikkei (a daily financial newspaper)
Ž©“®ŽÔ automobile + ŒŸ¸ inspection = ŽÔŒŸ automobile inspection (shaken)

As Japan moves into ^“~ (^ true + “~ winter = midwinter, mafuyu), there is no relief in sight for the economic •s‹µ (•s non- + ‹µ conditions = slump, fukyou), and more than a few unfortunate folks are down with influenza. Many Japanese young people are in "examination hell," preparing for their stress-inducing “üŽŽ (“üŠw enter school, nyuugaku + ŽŽŒ± exam, shiken = “üŽŽ@entrance examination, nyuushi) experience. The rest of us can try to enjoy our long weekend, January 12-14, thanks to the Coming of Age Day holiday.

To which of the above eight patterns do the following jukugo belong? If you get them all correct, ’E–X (’E take off + –X hat = Hat's off, datsubou) to you! You are well on your way to making sense of jukugo patterns. Answers are at the end.

A. Š¦ cold + —â cool = Š¦—â coldness (kanrei)
B. ”­ let out + ”M heat = ”­”M attack of fever (hatsunetsu)
C. •a illness + ‰@ institute = •a‰@ hospital (byouin)
D. –³ without + E employment = –³E unemployed (mushoku)
E. á snow + •ö collapse = á•ö snowslide (nadare)
F. ’g warm up + –[ chamber = ’g–[ heating (danbou)
G. ˜A‘± continuation + ‹x‰É holiday = ˜A‹x consecutive holidays (renkyuu)

ANSWERS: A. 6 B. 2 C. 3 D. 4 E. 1 F. 2 G. 8

If you have a kanji-related topic you would like to see discussed in the Kanji Clinic, drop me a line.