mjj (flemmings) wrote,

There's a longstanding and deeply unfortunate convention over here that translates the word for female Taoist Immortal (sennyo in Japanese, 仙女) as 'fairy'. Taoist Immortals may be weird in spite of their frequently human beginnings, but they just don't correlate to English fairies, nohow. No wings, just for a start.

That stray thought courtesy of the fact that I got tired of trying to figure out from the raw Japanese what was the complicated political background to the extremely unlikable 'fairy' who ijimes Suzu in Twelve Kingdoms and bought the DVDs of a chunk of the Two Whiners arc. This is why it's nice to have money for a change. This is possibly also why my Japanese listening comprehension will never improve.

But while I was at The Beguiling for the DVDs I also checked out vol 5 of Saiyuuki in English just to see what *they* did with kiyou binbou. For those to whom I haven't whined about this phrase before, kiyou means clever, skilful, adept, and as I frequently see it being used, especially 'good with people.' Binbou means poor. It's what Gonou-Hakkai calls himself when he wins the card game at Gojou's, when he talks about how you can see the way the cards are going but it's not much use if you don't have luck on your side. 'You're the kiyou binbou type, right?' Gojou asks. 'I guess so.' 'Me too,' Gojou nods.

All the online J-E dictionaries and a few of the paper ones will tell you in smug uniformity that it means 'jack of all trades and master of none.' Yes, and what's that supposed to mean, and what's it got to do with needing luck to win card games, huh? The J-J goes into more detail, about KB people having superficial expertise at a thing, or many things, but precisely because of their cleverness never being successful at it. Dilettante has been proposed as a translation, and I guess that's as close as English will come, but I still get the sense that there's some value system inherent in the Japanese term that's absent from the English. *Obviously* someone who's good at a number of things can't ever be excellent at any one of them sniff sniff. Which isn't true, at least over here. Leonardo was an excellent painter as well as a more than adequate everything else. But over there- well, Hiraga Gennai was innovative and original, but he wasn't truly outstanding at any of the many things he did.

I still don't know what this has to do with Hakkai, though.

And of course, in the English translation, kiyou binbou is rendered 'jack of all trades and master of none.' But naturally.
Tags: 12kingdoms, japanese, language, saiyuki
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