Wordcatcher Tales: hen’i kabu ‘mutant strain’

In its Japan Focus section this week, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser introduced a new term that has been much in the Japanese news lately. Their romanization as “hen ikabu (n.) mutant strain, as in COVID-19 variants” would be more accurately rendered as hen’i 変異 ‘mutation’ + 株 kabu ‘stock, strain’. Let’s break it down a little further.

hen ranges in meaning from ‘change’ to ‘accident’ to ‘strange’, as in 変名 henmei (change-name) ‘alias’, 変成 hensei (change-become) ‘metamorphosis’, 変死 henshi (accident-death) ‘accidental death’, or 変態 hentai (strange-condition/attitude) (n.) ‘metamorphosis’, (adj.) ‘abnormal, perverted’. Most foreigners resident in Japan soon learn the expression 変な外人 hen na gaijin ‘strange foreigner’.

i also means ‘strange, different, foreign’, as in 異人種 ijinshu (alien-person-type) ‘alien race’, 異見 iken (different-view) ‘objection’, 異国語 ikokugo (foreign-country-language) ‘foreign language’.

kabu ‘stock, strain’ originally meant ‘rootstock’, as in kabu ‘turnip’ (now written 蕪) but nowadays most commonly means ‘stock, share’, as in 株主 kabunushi ‘shareholder’ or 株式会社 kabushiki kaisha ‘joint stock corporation’. In Japanese corporate names, K.K. is equivalent to Corp., Inc., or Ltd.

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Filed under disease, drugs, Japan, language

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