evil & pun-ishment

Beverly Flanigan flanigan at OAK.CATS.OHIOU.EDU
Fri Apr 21 17:00:20 UTC 2000

At 01:27 PM 4/13/00 -0400, you wrote:
>I have read somewhere that the expression (approximately, in Japanese or
>language) 'See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil" came first, and that
>monkeys became associated with it because each of the clauses phonetically
>resembles a word meaning 'monkey' in that language. Anyone know more about
>uh, tale?
>-- Mark

Back to this old thread:  I asked my Japanese colleague about this, and he
explained that the imperative verb in each clause (not the entire clause)
adds a negative suffix that does indeed sound like the word for
'monkey.'  To wit:  miru=to see, kiku=to hear, iwu=to say.  Add '-zaru' to
the stem of each (mizaru, kikazaru, iwazaru) and you get the commands
"Don't see, don't hear, don't say/speak."  The phonological word play comes
from the similarity of cliticized -zaru to 'saru'=monkey.

However, he knew nothing of the attached "evil" history, since he said in
Japanese this full expression is not used (in fact, the concept of some
abstract "evil" or "badness" left him mystified; Japanese has no such word,
he said--nor does Buddhism?).  The phrase would more likely be used
(without an object) to suggest "Hush! Big Brother is listening; don't do
anything that might get you in trouble with the authorities," etc.  I
wonder if the 3-part English version was spun off as a moral imperative for
little kids?  Like Don Lance, I recall as a child seeing pictures of the
three monkeys with the phrases beneath, and I took them to be a preachment
(sort of Christianized) for children, as well as a warning to Americans in
general not to see/hear/say anything that might be leaked to the "enemy."

Beverly Olson Flanigan         Department of Linguistics
Ohio University                     Athens, OH  45701
Ph.: (740) 593-4568              Fax: (740) 593-2967

More information about the Ads-l mailing list