Language fluency is a weird thing.
At the risk of sounding arrogant, my Japanese is good — damn good. It better be, after all the time and effort I’ve put into it. I can deal with tech support, harrass the cable guy and converse with short-tempered doctors, all in Japanese.
I have an insatiable appetite for learning. I read everything from dictionaries to food labels to internet gossip sites. I went through a period where I was obsessed with kanji etymology, triggered by the realization that 空 (sky) is 穴 (hole) with a carpenter’s square, which struck me as rather bizarre. Another phase found me fascinated with onomatopoeia (for which I recommend 現代擬音語擬態語用法辞典). I once read nothing but porn magazines for two months, till I’d learned all the requisite terminology and was really sick of porn.
Thanks to CSI, I can rattle off terms like “bullet casings” and “gunpowder residue.” I learned the word for “night-vision goggles” after watching Silence of the Lambs, and still remember that the dictionary entry was on the left page toward the bottom. And just because I’m weird like that, I know not one but two terms for “rift in the space-time continuum” (時空の割れ目 and 時空断層). A friend of mine shakes his head and calls me “the walking dictionary.”
I’ve had a conversation break down because I didn’t know the word for “sieve.” Up until last year, I didn’t know what the Chinese zodiac was called. Just last week, a lovely coworker introduced me to both 温野菜 (“steamed vegetables”) and 連呼 (renko), a pretty lulzy word that means to repeatedly say the same thing in a loud voice. And let’s not forget that time 10 years ago when, for whatever insane reason, it took me a full two months to finally memorize 石けん, or “soap.”
Which brings us to today. When I had to do a double-take because I didn’t know the word appearing in the title of this post — 結露 (ketsuro), meaning “condensation.”
Will there ever be a day when I don’t get my ass handed to me by this language?