Saturday, July 21, 2007

Stupid Shorts

Hanzi Smatter reader and frequent commenter Ulas has snapped a photo of this pair of boxer shorts.



There are two characters, 鹿, clearly printed above the English word "Dragon".

鹿 literally means "horse & deer", however in Japanese, they mean "stupid" or "idiot/fool".

13 comments:

  1. I think 馬鹿 in Chinese is the name of a type of deer, called the "Asian red deer" in English. I feel sort of sorry for the deer, since their Chinese name means stupid or idiot in Japanese.

    The other deer might make fun of them. (G)

    -Alan

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  2. From what I remember of the Tale of Genji (other than the main character sleeping with all those women), the author does bring up at one point the idea that there was a story of someone who couldn't tell a horse from a deer, hence those two characters being used in the word for "idiot".

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  3. To Julian:

    It was an emperor who pointed to a deer and called it a horse while out hunting. Of course, no one would argue with him ; )

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  4. Another theory on the ethymology of this word is that it's a phonetic transliteration.

    The taking of the photo: Taken with a cell phone, trying hard not to be seen by shop attendants, pretending to be writing a text message...good that it's clear enough to be read :))

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  5. That... has to be the funniest mess-up of kanji I've ever seen.

    By the way, the emperor story is the usual one I hear for the etymology behind 馬鹿, although I don't recall that being in the Tale of Genji.

    I figure it's equally plausible that 馬鹿 is just a phonetic transliteration (per Ulas' suggestion), sort of like "無茶苦茶", and the emperor story was just tagged on in later years to explain it. K

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  6. The story about the emperor is the one I've heard too. As I remember it, he wanted to weed out all the officials who didn't like him so he could win more power. He pointed to the deer and called it a horse, and if anybody dared to correct him, he sent them away or killed them.

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  7. Audrey,

    Similar to the dismissal of U.S. Attorneys by the Bush Administration?

    ;)

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  8. The Chinese idiom "指鹿為馬" is the most common explanation for the Japanese use of the phrase "馬鹿"--it wasn't really the emperor who did this, but his top eunuch, 趙高 (Zhao Gao), who held most of the power in the court.

    A more brief explanation of the idiom (in simplified Chinese) can be found here.

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  9. A more learned explanation ;) is that it's a transliteration of a Sanskrit word (either moha or mahallaka) meaning "ignorant" that entered Japanese as Buddhist slang. That's what my Kojien says, anyway.

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  10. A, I found it. It's in the "Suma" chapter, when Genji is in exile on the beaches of Suma (part of modern-day Kobe). The late Emperor's consort/current Emperor's mother (Kokiden) learns that Genji is not enduring any particular hardship in exile, and is in fact keeping up his usual contacts. Incensed, she says:
    「朝廷の勘事なる人は、心に任せてこの世のあぢはひをだに知ること難うこそあなれ。おもしろき家居して、世の中を誹りもどきて、かの鹿を馬と言ひけむ人のひがめるやうに追従する」

    I'm not all that up on Classical Japanese, but Tyler translates the passage as:
    "It is my understanding that one under imperial ban does not properly enjoy even the taste of food, and for him to inhabit a fine house, to mock and slander the court, and to have his flatterers spouting the same nonsense as those who, they say, called a deer a horse..."

    Tyler also notes a work called the Shiji, which pretty much tells the same story about the official who tested his subordinates' loyalty through that means.

    Of course, it doesn't prove anything beyond the fact that that particular folk etymology was already fairly common knowledge by the 11th Century...

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  11. Julian writes:
    かの鹿を馬と言ひけむ人のひがめるやうに追従する」

    have his flatterers spouting the same nonsense as those who, they say, called a deer a horse..."

    Tyler also notes a work called the Shiji, which pretty much tells the same story about the official who tested his subordinates' loyalty through that means.

    Of course, it doesn't prove anything beyond the fact that that particular folk etymology was already fairly common knowledge by the 11th Century...


    I think this really only indicates that the 11th century Japanese were aware of the 指鹿為馬 quote from the Chinese classics (Zhao Gao lived in the 2nd century BC). My sources indicate that the first recorded use of 馬鹿 in Japanese in the idiot/stupid sense came much later than the 11th century. I think the more accepted derivation of the word 馬鹿 is the Sanskrit phrase quoted by kuri.

    -Alan

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  12. 馬鹿(學名Cervus elaphus)是屬於鹿科的一種,又名八叉鹿,是中國國家2級保護動物。

    Source: http://zh.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=%E9%A6%AC%E9%B9%BF&variant=zh-tw

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  13. Etymology of 馬鹿 aside, This could be one of those little jokes played on both the consumer and the producer of the goods by the graphic designer who knew what they were doing (and assumed everyone else wouldn't) and just slapped that on there as a "design element", when what they were really doing was making sure that, to all those who can read it, "This is yet another American who thinks they are cool for wearing something that looks Asian, but is really an idiot for doing so without understanding it".

    Much like a shirt I once saw in a shop: it was a beautiful woman's long sleeved shirt with a single, large Hanzi character in the middle of it that read; "Table".
    I watched, amused as hell, as two 20 something young Ladies each purchased one because "this Asian stuff is, like, so cool".

    :)

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