October 08, 2017

Blue Orchid (6)

The author uses a curious idiom in this chapter: 「梨の礫」 (nashi no subute). Literally, "a pear's small stones." It means to get no response to an action, which I translated as "hitting a brick wall" (p. 247).

In this case, nashi (梨) is an ateji (当て字), a written kanji assigned to a word based on how it is read aloud (the phoneme), not the meaning.

Perhaps the most common ateji known around the world is sushi (寿司). Its kanji, meaning "longevity" and "political administration," have nothing to do with fish or even food.

A little online research reveals that nashi should logically be written 「無し」 or "none, without any." Thus the expression literally means "no small stones." Throw small stones at a big problem and you'll get no response.

As the result of a semantic substitution or a malapropism that caught on, the adverb nashi was replaced by a noun ("pear") that is its homonymic equivalent but whose literal meaning is nonsensical.

To be sure, all languages, no less English, are plagued by such idioms and colloquial expressions. Off the top of my head (not the bottom or the side):

"head over heels" (not "heels over head"?)
"pull one's leg"
"drunk as a skunk"
"as all get out"

And when you're done, be sure to put the cat back in the bag.

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