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Would a rose by any other name be as dead?

“I’m going to learn the Japanese language!” You announce to yourself, bright-eyed and determined, a fire in your heart and a world of knowledge ahead of you. You studiously pore over hiragana tables, then drill each and every katakana into your head. You learn that Japanese is structured differently from English, that the verb tends to come after the subject and object rather than between them. You tackle a mountain of kanji. Maybe you even find some friends to talk in Japanese with and learn the ebbs and flows of conversation.

Feeling good about yourself, you gesture to a vase filled with ailing morning glories.Asagao ga kareta.” The morning glories have withered. Right?

Right?

Wrong! When you address morning glories, or asagao, the correct term to use is shibomu. It also means “to wither”, but has a shriveling, deflating nuance to it.

▼ Here’s a fully blooming morning glory to make you feel better.

As with many aspects of the Japanese language, many native speakers will be far too polite to correct you on the finer points of funereal flower terminology, especially as kareru (the catch-all verb for “wither” or “die” when applied to plants) makes perfect sense in context. But for perfectionists who wish to speak flawless, top-tier Japanese it’s yet another thorn in their side.

YouTuber Artur, who is Latvian but produces content primarily in Japanese, lamented the extent of his withering woes in the following tweet:

他の言語だと『花が枯れる』という表現はそんなに多くないと思うんだけど、日本語の『花が枯れるの表現多すぎ問題』に直面してラトビア人泣いてる。

桜⇒散る
梅⇒こぼれる
椿⇒落ちる
朝顔⇒しぼむ
菊⇒舞う
牡丹⇒崩れる

ま…待ってくれ…
日本人のみんな…
そなた達の語彙力は底なし沼か?

— アルトゥル?日本推しYouTuber? (@ArturGalata) March 12, 2021

“I feel that other languages don’t have anywhere near as many ways to say the …continue reading