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Lexical Leavings

by Tom Gally

In 1999, there was a discussion on the Honyaku mailing list about "unlookupables"--lexical expressions that cannot be found in dictionaries easily or at all. One such expression in Japanese is that of 男の「お」の字もない or 英語の「え」の字も知らない; somebody trying to understand these phrases or translate them into English would of course not find them under お or え, and no kokugo dictionaries I checked had anything under 字, either (a couple of Japanese-English dictionaries did have examples, though).

An example in English would be series of nouns that either have no "and" before the last item or include "and" between every pair of items. I noted this passage from the U.S. National Public Radio news program All Things Considered on December 6, 1999:
This part of Queens, Elmhurst-Corona, back in 1940 was Italian, Irish, Jewish, German--almost entirely white. That's true of 1950 and 1960. Then a new immigration wave started from Cuba, Haiti, the Dominican Republic. In the late '60s, the Medicare and Medicaid programs created a boom in hospital employment at every level. Doctors, psychiatrists, dental technicians--all could make more money here than back home.
These "A, B, C" series mean "A, B, C, and others"--they're explicitly nonexclusive. "A and B and C" has similar meaning. From the same report:
They take it for granted that there are kids in their schools who are Haitians and Colombians and Mexicans and Chinese and Koreans.
No English dictionaries I checked noted the nonexclusive meaning of "and" in "A and B and C," and it's difficult to imagine how they might note the meaning of the absence of "and" in "A, B, C."

I was thinking of this issue today because of the following introduction to a story in the December 31/January 7 issue of Spa!:
The repetition of particles--here, に and だ--is something that one wishes could be looked up, but it can't. And neither can that final っ of …いいんですかっ. Dictionaries would serve their users better if they included lists of such unlookupables.
(December 28, 2002)