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Lexical Leavings

by Tom Gally



Yesterday, I was asked to come up with an English translation for the term 三白眼, which 新明解国語辞典 defines as follows:
さんぱくがん【三白眼】
黒目が上に偏っているために、ひとみの左右と下部の三方が白く見える感じの目。人相学上悪い目つきとされる。 さんぱくまな。
I assumed that I would have to make up an explanatory definition, as I had never heard of such a thing in English. But to my surprise a search for "sanpaku" yielded a good number of hits from purely English sources. For example:
CHERIE'S YIN AND YANG ARE ALL WHITE

All those who have struggled to identify just why Cherie Blair looks so odd have been given the answer -- or part of it, at least. Apparently Mrs Blair suffers from a rare condition called sanpaku which means the whites of her eyes show above and below the iris instead of just at the sides.

There are two types of the condition. Yang sanpaku, when the whites show above the iris, is associated with anger and aggression. Yin sanpaku, in which the whites show below the iris, is linked to vulnerability.

Mrs Blair has both the yin and yang varieties. That accounts for the wide-eyed, staring look. Now what about that mouth?

(Sunday Mercury, January 12, 2003)
Other articles explain that the term comes from Japanese; it seems to be associated in the West with New Agey physiognomy. Anyhow, I went with the gloss "sanpaku eyes" followed by an explanatory definition.
(March 30, 2003)