Compound Words Are Shorter

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Sometimes I compare jukugo (熟語) to compound words. Kanji characters have some meaning(s) that they convey independently, but they can also be combined in sets of two or three (or more!!!) to convey another meaning; these combinations of characters are called jukugo.

Depending on which characters are combined, the meaning might be considerably changed; however, it is more common for the meaning to be closely related, occasionally even carrying the same (or slightly nuanced) meaning as an individual character.

My experience has been that jukugo are used far more often than individual characters for nouns, but individual characters commonly see usage as verbs.

Now that you have a little background, let me introduce today’s topic. I am amused by simple things. In English a compound word is (usually) the same length as its component words added together. Because kanji have multiple readings, jukugo don’t follow this same rule. Actually an individual character can be longer than a compound.

所   ところ tokoro = place

場所  ばしょ basho = place

This is just one example I have stuck in my head right now. Tokoro, being three syllables; and basho, being two. Of course, in writing the jukugo stroke count will always add up to the parts.

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2 Responses to “Compound Words Are Shorter”

  1. Keven Says:

    Cool! I still think you should write a “Learn Japanese the Erik Hammond Way” at some point! 🙂

    What is the distinction in meaning between 所 and 場所?

  2. びっくり Says:

    One meaning (or use) of Tokoro is essentially the same meaning as Basho, but Tokoro has many other uses. Sometimes it is used for a circumstance or condition. (like, “I want you on my project team.” “Oh, I can’t get out of my current project.” In this sentence ‘my current project’ could be tokoro.)

    My feeling is that tokoro has more of the sense of a point, and basho has more of the sense of an area.

    While I was discussing this with a coworker today another amusing case came to mind. Furusato is a word that expresses ‘my hometown’ with a nostalgic sense. It is commonly written three different ways using two kanji each, but it is also sometimes written with just the second character, ‘sato’, of one of the combos.

    古里、 故里、 故郷、 郷 All four of these are valid writings of furusato.

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