June 8th, 2007


The headbangers' glossary

I've wailed often enough about the Japanese tendency to call people ketchi and what a pain it is for a NAmerican to translate, when all notion of miserliness as a character trait has passed out of the culture. I'm not sure when that happened- post-war is my guess- or why, though I'm coming to a vague notion that in societies where few people are very rich, like Edo Japan and 19th century Britain or America, the notion of hoarding and not sharing and being ungenerous in general is not only more widespread, it's more in the forefront of people's consciousness. It's one of those vices that weakens the social net people depend on. Reach a certain level of affluence and it becomes less of an implied social crime. Misers existed and were condemned in the 1860s and had all disappeared a hundred years later, when the meaning of 'mean' had gone from 'skinflint' to 'unkind.' Misers existed- I think Howard Hughes was probably one- but it wasn't a character trait by then, it was a pathology, and no one was much interested in it. Japan took longer to reach that affluence and was always more of a mutual-dependence society, is possibly why the miser sense of ketchi hung on longer.

The current use of ketchi in fact takes in both senses of mean- niggardly and unkind, one who withholds out of malice or ungenerosity: but it bugs me that most people reading it will only take it in one sense. I could rant here about the flattening effect of American English, but I won't.

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