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Friday, January 26, 2018

Bending Over Backwards in Japanese: Nokezoru

仰け反る



A month or so ago I got a horrifically bloodshot left eye, which meant I had to wear sunglasses day and night for about three weeks to avoid frightening people.

I have never been prone to bloodshot eyes, and can only surmise that it was caused by a recent addition to my daily exercise regime. Hands placed on buttocks, I would bend over backwards as far as I could then rhythmically bounce my torso against this limit about 20 times in order to increase dorsal flexibility, and the acuteness of the angle I could lean back at, day by day. I noticed, though, that throwing my head that far back constricted blood flow through my neck somewhat, increasing the pressure on the blood vessels in my head, and palplably in my eyes.

On looking in the mirror one day after a few days of this, I was very taken aback to see what looked like Dracula staring back at me. A capiliary or two in my left eye had popped, turning the nose-side half of my eye solid crimson.

Bending over backwards is not something I commonly talk about, so I had to look up what to say to the doctor. I found that the word described both my original action undertaken on the balcony every morning overlooking the Tokyo Skytree and the Kokugikan over the Sumida River, and my reaction when I saw myself in the mirror.

Tokyo Skytree, Sumida ward, Tokyo, at dawn.
Tokyo Skytree at dawn, from across the Sumida River


nokezoru: the noke here is a special pronunciation of the first kanji, 仰, which is usually pronounced ao(gu) 仰ぐ. The left radical is for "person" 人 and the right (the obscure kanji, 卬) is for "lofty," for a clear, simple picture of someone with face raised.

Go to a doctor or chiropractor or the like, and you're very likely to hear "aomuke" (仰向け) as in "Aomuke ni natte kudasai" ("Please [lie down] face upwards." Aogu has several other meanings: (1) to look up (at); (2) to look up (to); to respect; to revere; (3) to ask for; to seek; (4) to turn to someone; to depend on; (5) to gulp down; to quaff; to take (e.g. poison) (Source: Jim Breen's WWWJDIC), but all of them are related to having the face oriented upwards: looking up in respect, for help, or when recklessly tipping something down your throat.

The "zoru" here is the kanji 反る, pronounced "soru" when it appears by itself. (s regularly changes to z in Japanese when it comes in the middle of a word, such as in the place name Kanazawa: the "zawa" is actually the word "sawa," meaning "marsh.") soru means to arch, as a cat does its back or as an archer does his or her bow.

So nokezoru means to bend backwards. In English to bend backwards has the figurative meaning of exerting oneself and making an all-out effort. However, the figurative meaning in Japanese is as follows:

のけぞる (nokezoru).
Taken aback! (Nokezotta)
i.e., being taken aback, surprised, and has nothing to do with the figurative English meaning.

But rather than being used all alone in its figurative sense, nokezoru is added to an expression conveying surprise, further amplifying it. For example, Bikkuri shite nokezotta (Literally, "I was surprised and bent backwards" or, more naturally translated, "I was floored!")

So to get back to the opening scenario,
Nokezorisugite, me no juuketsu o shita.  のけぞり過ぎて目の充血をした。(I leaned too far backwards and gave myself a bloodshot eye.)
Kagami de miru to hidokatta kara bikkuri shite nokezotta. 鏡でみるとひどかったからびっくりしてのけぞった。(I looked in the mirror, and it was awful, so I got a real shock.)

Finally, feel free to write a comment about something that made you bend over backwards in surprise recently!


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