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Friday, August 07, 2015

Settling down in Japanese: the verb sueru

据える

The Japanese verb sueru 据える。
The Japanese verb sueru

If you've been in Japan for any length of time, you'll know how incredibly important the idea of home is to the Japanese. The idea of a permanent home is even built into Japan's administrative system by way of the koseki household registration. The koseki grounds each Japanese person in a family at a particular "home" address, with the actual addresses at which the often scattered members may live being considered provisional - until the day a family member marries and starts his own koseki somewhere else.

And foreigners who live in Japan are, first and foremost, seen as being "away from home." They must be "homesick" and are, by definition, unsettled (and quite often unsettling!)

In other words, "being at home," "rootedness," "being on one's own territory" are crucial concepts to the Japanese.

There's a word that expresses this sense of focus, attachment and groundedness: sueru ("soo-eh-roo"). Here we're going to look at a few uses of sueru in everyday Japanese.

sueru means, at its simplest, to put, set, place or lay in position. The example sentence in Jim Breen's WWJDIC dictionary goes:
中央には机が据えられていて、赤い革張りの回転椅子がそえてあった。
chuo ni wa tsukue ga suerarete, akai kawabari no kaiten isu ga soete atta.
"A desk stood in the centre, with a red leather swivel chair."
Here the passive form of sueru, suerareru, is used, so a more literal translation would be:
"A desk was placed in the center, accompanied by a red leather swivel chair."

That's the basic meaning. Now let's look at some more colorful uses of sueru.

To fix your eye on someone is misueru 見据える, the mi being for "look" and the sueru standing for "fix."

To really glare at someone and stare them down is niramisueru 睨み据える, the nirami meaning "glare" and the sueru adding an additional, somewhat grim, "planted there to stay there" element to it.

Another combative use of sueru is in the phrase:
灸を据える kyuu o sueru
meaning "to rake over the coals, chastise, roast." Literally it describes the act of moxibustion, i.e., holding a burning moxa (or, kyu) to someone's skin, but it is used much more often in this figurative sense of "grilling" someone. The image here that springs to mind is of a torturer purposefully applying a red hot poker to a certain spot, the key idea being intentional placing, the same way as in branding cattle, for example..

To continue the violence, there is the word kirisueru 切り据える, literally "cut-and-place"—meaning to cut down an enemy (with one's sword), the sueru adding a sense of fatal intent and purposefulness to the act of cutting.

Yet, there are sueru things you can do for those you love and respect, as well. For example, if your boss graces you with a visit you would ボスと上座に据える bosu o kamiza ni sueru: sit the boss in the seat of honor. Here "sit" can be more literally translated as "place" or "ensconce."

Finally, there are quite a few sueru things you can do with various body parts!

To start with a very straightforward one: shiri (more usually coupled with the honorific o: o-shiri) means one's "backside," so shiri o sueru 尻を据える means to "plant your ass," i.e., sit down.

koshi means your back, and koshi o sueru 腰を据える means to settle down to doing something, putting all your energies into something (for the long haul). The image that comes to mind here is of the pose often encountered in socialist statuary, of the hero, one foot in front of the other, shoulders thrown back and all forward impetus coming from his lower back, which is planted there. A related meaning, is simply to settle down or ensconce yourself somewhere.

hara means belly, and hara o sueru 腹を据える means to make up your mind, commit yourself to a decision, set yourself to a course of action. This one doesn't work on the English speaker's mind so readily, but I guess once you've come to a decision you've lost sleep over and hummed and hahed for days over, you are then entitled to then stand there, hands on hips, and feel the full weight of your gut that now hangs there in a solid state of assuredness, given up at last, after all that tossing and turning, to the gravity of certainty.

kimo means liver and, as in the English "lily livered," the liver in Japanese is traditionally the seat of the will. So kimo o sueru 肝を据える, or to "put your liver into it" predictably means to prepare yourself for the worst and determinedly embark on a course of action.

肝を据えて日本語を勉強しようよ!
Kimo o suete Nihongo o benkyo shiyo yo!

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