10 June 2006

Wordcatcher Tales: Tanchou, Momonga, Kuroten

Among the things I'll miss when I leave Japan at the end of this month are NHK nature shows. The photography is often spectacular, of course, but the spare and clear narrative style, with equally spare but clear captions on screen, are perfect for an obsessive language-learner who watches Japanese TV with denshi jisho in hand—and a mute button within easy reach if it's a commercial channel. Here are three animal names I learned while watching a show about Hokkaido wildlife recently.

丹頂 tanchou 'Japanese crane, red-crested white crane' - The 丹 is 'red' (as in cinnabar or vermilion), while the 頂 is 'crest, peak, summit', so the prosaic version of the name is 'red crest'.

ももんが momonga 'Eurasian flying squirrel' - A rare, nocturnal creature of the far north whose image graces Estonian postage stamps. It's possible to write the name much more obscurely in kanji, but I don't see the point, and neither did NHK.

くろてん kuroten 'sable' - There are at least three kinds of てん (a native Japanese word that can also be written 貂): 黒てん kuroten 'sable', 白てん shiroten 'ermine', 松てん matsuten 'pine marten'. (These flesh-and-blood creatures are not to be confused with the animé "Black Angel" Kuroten. Nor should ermines be confused with ferrets!)

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