Miura Shion Interview Part 4: The Difficulties of Expressing in Words

Miura Shion is the original author of Fune wo Amu (2011) otherwise also known as The Great Passage. The anime adaptation started airing from October 16 on Fuji Television’s noitaminA block. For this reason I decided to translate an interview with the author over the course of the next couple of months while the anime is airing. The interview consists of eleven parts; this is the fourth part on the difficulties of interpretation and expression of words. Please go to part one “Encountering a Dictionary” to start reading the interview from the beginning.

Fune wo Amu
Majime is at a loss for words.

The Difficulties of Expressing in Words

Even if there is a word called “やさしい” (yasashii)1)kind, tender, gentle, graceful, affectionate, amiable, there’s a gradation in a position which approximates to pointing out the type of circumstances. You could say it’s vague. It is definitely very difficult to explain that.

I’m going to change the topic though; I also look at dictionaries and read them, and among such ways of enjoyment, in my childhood I had experiences of encountering unknown words. In those times I wanted to try using the words I remembered as much as I could, so I wrote these into compositions where I didn’t need to write them. How about Miura-san?

Huh, I didn’t do that kind of thing!

You didn’t? Then what of the desire to use new words you just encountered somewhere…

Yeah, perhaps I did. There’s never been the case that I wrote such words into my writings on purpose, but until now I have had thoughts of wanting to use words I never used before. A word like “韜晦とうかい” (toukai)2)hiding (talents, etc.), self-concealment, self-effacement, is incredibly difficult, so I write the kanji while looking into the dictionary. Aren’t there any words you’re personally obsessed with at those times? I saw words like “透徹とうてつ” (toutetsu)3)penetration; absolutely clear; not dirty; clearness and “畢竟ひっきょう” (hikkyou)4)after all, and thought they were cool. By the way, for some reason the word I’m currently obsessed with and want to use is  “チョンガー” (chonga) 5)bachelor (Korean: ch’onggak) (laughs).

Words like “畢竟ひっきょう” (hikkyou)6)after all are difficult words which are rarely used by people.

The literary masters in the Meiji era seemed to use this word.

When I run into a word like “のみならず” (nominarazu)7)besides; as well as while reading dictionaries and Akutagawa Ryuunosuke, I really want to use it no matter what…

That’s certainly true.

At first one is attracted by difficult expressions in that manner. I think there is that kind of phase. However, on the contrary, one rather starts to think like “It’s better guess difficult things and deep subjects correctly by using simple words” after becoming an adult. A dictionary is also the same. If the dictionary’s interpretation is more difficult than the entry word, you won’t understand the meaning at all. An adult-oriented dictionary like the “Daijirin” will still be okay, but in the case of child-oriented dictionaries; the younger the age, the more difficult the interpretation becomes.

So even if you explain it in other words, you’ll get a situation like “this word is not a word we can put in this dictionary for our targeted age group” , and so the words which are usable for interpretation will decrease.

That’s right. Such things happened as well. Dictionaries aimed at young children are picture dictionaries, but even then we use short words. And that’s difficult.

For example, it seems difficult to explain something like ‘bread’.

Fune wo Amu movie

In the case of picture dictionaries, when it truly is too difficult, we use the escape method of leaving [the interpretation] to the picture. But it’s really difficult to explain “color” by using words in a dictionary aimed at elementary school children.

Indeed, how would you explain that…

If it’s “red”, it would be the color of blood, or if it’s “blue”, it would be the color of the sky on a sunny day. This is a method to get a close metaphor. We use an indirect way of explaining a word.

It’s the same for colors, but so are the other words. Just because we say it’s “red”, doesn’t mean that the scope is clearly defined, because it becomes a color gradient, right? Even if there is a word called “やさしい” (yasashii)8)kind, tender, gentle, graceful, affectionate, amiable, there’s a gradation in a position which approximates to pointing out the type of circumstances. You could say it’s vague. It is definitely very difficult to explain that.

I think I judge a sentence when I write it at that very moment, but on what kind of points are you careful of when selecting a word, Miura-san? Have you ever thought “It might be accurate if I used this word, but it’s difficult, so I’m going with a softer expression on purpose”?

I have. In that sense I wonder if it has something in common with dictionary making. A novel, particularly in the case of entertainment, is mixed with the goal of having as many as people as possible enjoy it. I think it has a part which differs from novels which can only be understood by people who can understand it. There may be someone who doesn’t read novels very often, but casually takes it into their hands. If the writing is too difficult to read, or if it has very difficult words, that kind of reader will feel embarrassed, and the writing won’t hold up as entertainment. You can’t follow all readers, and it’s not like you can think of your readers the whole time, and I don’t think it’s like all novelists think in such a way. But I think “it’s important whether to be able to express in words which everyone normally uses”. I also keep in mind to use metaphors which are easily understood.


Sanseido Word-Wise Web

The World of Dictionaries Interview

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Notes   [ + ]

1, 8. kind, tender, gentle, graceful, affectionate, amiable
2. hiding (talents, etc.), self-concealment, self-effacement
3. penetration; absolutely clear; not dirty; clearness
4, 6. after all
5. bachelor (Korean: ch’onggak)
7. besides; as well as

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