Sunday, January 10, 2010

Let's enjoy Japanese: Taking a stab at it

Last year someone was stabbed outside a convenience store across the street from one of the schools where I work. I believe the victim was a woman, and the attacker immediately ran away. As you can imagine, there was quite a stir. Classes weren't in session, but the school was locked down and teachers went off around the school on patrol. For the next few hours police helicopters were flying around the neighborhood looking for the guy. Word is he was caught.

Anyway, I always find it quite fascinating that some languages have words for ideas that others don't. In this case, we have a word that I learned from a friend of mine - 通り魔.

通り魔 (とおりま) means a random attacker, or someone who stabs people on the street randomly. While Japan is one of the safest places in the world to live, this goes to show you that it does have crime - the Japanese have their own word for this kind of criminal.

The construction of this word is also quite interesting. Let's have a look:

The first part, 通り, means street. Appropriate enough. The second part, 魔, means demon or devil. You may recognize it from 悪魔 (あくま; akuma, the devil). So the word literally means street devil. I love how kanji can simultaneously be kind of poetic and yet so simple and utilitarian.

While the application of this word is kind of limited, I thought it might be a cool one for you to know. And besides, every once in a while one of these attacks will be on the news (I believe there was one in Akihabara a couple years ago), and now you'll know the Japanese for it.

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