Q: Kanji for "gossip"?

Joel S. Berson Berson at ATT.NET
Tue Apr 28 19:59:56 UTC 2009

I had written elsewhere:
>I am reminded that (I was told) the character (Kanji) for "gossip"
>is composed from that for "woman" written three times.

A correspondent replied:
>Out of curiosity I asked an old friend of mine who lived in China
>for years if this is true and he replied
>no, it means "adultery" or "rape":

Was I told an urban folk tale?  I was told "gossip" around 1990 in a
Japan Tourist Bureau bus by a middle-aged woman guide entertaining
the passengers while we were delayed by congested weekend traffic
heading south from Tokyo.  I had "known" this from reading some
casual introduction to Japanese writing shortly earlier.  (It's
probably impossible today for me to recover the identity of the book,
so I won't even try.)  I took my oral source as reputable:  she was a
Second World War widow who had become a teacher and then a travel
guide -- I suspect remarkable initiative for a Japanese woman of the time.

I wonder what allusion, image, or allegory leads a character composed
of three of those for "woman" to be created as, or taken for,
adultery, rape, or seduction.  None of those requires 3 women, and
all (at least in the times when the Japanese, or probably the
preceding Chinese, characters were being invented) require one
man.  Even adultery would seem to require two men and but one woman
-- the married woman, her husband (to document the married state?),
and the male transgressor.

In Japan, might the character have an additional meaning of "gossip"?


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