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Sumimasen

January 2, 2008

The praying mantis is an insect whose appearance intrigues people because it seems to be apologizing or begging. When I was a child, I didn’t realize that it was the “praying” mantis because I assumed it was the “preying” mantis. I always thought its stance was that of a hunter, not a repenter.

My brother-in-law calls this insect el sumimasen, a Japanese word which roughly translates as, “please excuse me” or “I beg your pardon.” It is a great example of the wondrous possibilities of borrowing words from other languages, if you ask me. In Spanish it is called la mantis religiosa which translates as “the religious mantis.”

sumimasen

image credit

My husband’s brothers and sisters live in Japan and often use Japanese words in humorous ways. They are from Peru and their native language is Spanish. They continue to prefer speaking in Spanish even after living in Japan for many years. With such a large family (12 siblings in all) they form their own insular social group. For them, Japanese words are used sparingly in conversations to emphasize important points or for humor’s sake.

japanese kamakiri

image credit

Actually, the kamakiri is perceived as a gardener in the Japanese culture, since his name refers to the sickle, a gardening tool. I’m interested in finding out different cultural and linguistic references to the praying mantis. Do you have anything about them to share?

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4 Comments
  1. January 6, 2008 10:07 pm

    Well, all I have to share is their curious (and deadly-to-the-male) mating habits! Darn biology degree!

    They do seem like the kind of insect that would inspire a lot of different cultural and linguistic references, though I can’t think of any myself.

  2. January 7, 2008 5:02 pm

    A biology degree! You get extra cool points for that. πŸ˜‰

  3. sachko permalink
    August 16, 2008 11:37 am

    Hello,
    I will send you the baby Kamakiri and a year old Kamakiri found in my garden if there is a function to attach. Since the life span of Kamakiri is 10 mos to a year, I am sad to say August photo I took is sort of the golden aged Kamakiri. The color is like Kareha iro. I also found a male (smaller) Kamakiri as well and I do not believe the usual terrible story about the male is eaten by female at all…that is not true some say. After the heavy sex, the male dies due to the exhaustion. Any educated respond?

  4. August 16, 2008 12:09 pm

    Hello, Sachko. If you want to upload the photos to Flickr, you can leave me the link here in a comment so that I can see them. Thanks for commenting about Kamakiri.

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