The actual cruelest month

…would be September, then, I guess.

秋霜烈日
shuu.sou.retsu.jitsu

Literally: autumn – frost – intense – sun

Alternately: Stringent severity – of intent, or of some expression of authority such as discipline, punishment, etc. Strictness as harsh as a lethal late-fall frost or the burning summer sun.

Notes: Naturally, replacing 烈 with homophone 列, “line up,” is an error.

ShouSouRetsuJitsuKiShou

Apparently also the common name of this badge design for public prosecutors. Make of that what you will.

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Magic Monday: AI Magic 4

Week 4: Tools of War

Many say that the best magicians are those with a wide repertoire of spells that allow them to control a situation without any need for violence. But many also say that the longest-lived magicians are those with a few combat spells up their sleeves, just in case of emergency. Don’t dash into battle – but if you must, knowing one or more of these tricks is likely to help you stagger back out again.

War Cape

You clothe yourself in your culture’s tokens of martial excellence, and for a time, this spell gives you a shimmering aura and grants you might and skill appropriate to the costume. For as long as you concentrate the War Cape adds acuity to your senses, strength and precision to your muscles, and endurance to your lungs, as if all your magical training had instead gone into the warrior arts. An advanced version of the spell will even stave off pain and fatigue – for as long as you maintain the magic.

Find Strike

You send a weapon flying to attack a foe on your behalf. This requires some token that binds the magic to the proper target – a personal possession, a true name, a lock of hair or other body part – but the weapon will pursue its victim at a swift running pace for as long as they are alive and it has the capacity. Beware, though: a weapon that you have enchanted is bound to your magic, and another magician can use it as if it were your possession, to find and strike back at you.

Claming Blow

You strike someone with a blunt object and render them mute. The blow does not need to cause any harm, but it does need to connect hard enough for the target to feel it. The final word of the spell, which you speak while striking, determines the length the enforced silence lasts – for a few moments, for a day, for a year, or until the next time they are struck by this spell.

Grasping Light

For this spell you build a small flame and feed it special minerals until it glows a spectral shade of blue. You then pick it up in your hands (the flame is cold to the touch) and blow it into an area – where instead of burning, it will be attracted to the souls of things, limning almost everything in light with color and brightness matching the strength and type of soul present. This reveals people, of course, and differentiates them from unthinking animals, plants, the natural spirits of soil, stone, and water, and other entities. Soulless undead will show up as voids of pure darkness, in an area of effect where even seemingly-bare stone takes on a faint iridescent sheen.

Healing of Bat

You catch a live bat, enchant it in a surprisingly humane ritual – and then release it to carry on with its life as usual. However, when possible, the bat will eat a little more than usual, and save up the excess in the form of magical energy. When the time comes, you may call the bat back to you and use it in an even more surprisingly humane ritual to call forth healing vibrations that will knit closed even the most horrific wounds within minutes. (Note that this cannot save anyone who is dead before the ritual is completed.) Rumor whispers that a large enough flock of bats may be used to gain true immortality, but there are no records of any sorcerers who remained sane long enough to enchant the requisite number.

Crusading Disk

You summon a spinning, screaming disk of force and fling it in a direction that you strongly dislike. After its release, the disk is entirely out of your control – it will tear and crush and ruin friend, foe, or innocent alike, fanatically ricocheting around with inconsistent speed and counterintuitive changes in direction until its energy is spent.

Shield of Farts

You weave certain airborne essences into a tangible barrier that resists motion with a strength proportional to the velocity. Any attacks directed against the one you choose to protect will respond as if being pushed through rubber, or layer after layer of woollen batting. For whatever reason, though, only warm and aromatic essences may be used, so a wise magician who plans to use this spell will carefully regulate what, and when, they eat – or perhaps just carry a handy bundle of incense.

Naruto Shield of Farts

Magic!

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Blue sea, Red Cliffs, pale blue dot

滄海の一粟
(Soukai no ichizoku; “A single grain of millet in the deep blue sea”)

Definition:

Something incredibly small in the middle of something something incredibly big. A needle in a haycontinent. Metaphorically, the trifling, ephemeral existence of humans within the universe.

Breakdown:

This week we have another two-part noun phrase. The associative particle の (no) connects number-noun 一粟 (ichizoku), “one (grain of) millet,” to 滄海 (soukai), “blue sea.” And that’s all you need!

Notes:

This comes from Song Dynasty superstar Su Shi (蘇軾, Japanese So Shoku)’s rhymed prose piece “Former Ode on the Red Cliffs” (前赤壁賦, Japanese Zen sekiheki no fu).

In some versions, 滄 may be replaced by homophone 蒼 without any change in meaning. In others, 滄海 may become the more prosaic 大海 (taikai), “big ocean.” A slightly further variation takes this to 大海の一滴 (taikai no itteki), “a drop in the (big) ocean.”

Example sentence:

「宇宙の写真を見ると、綺麗だけど、人類はただの滄海の一粟なんだと思えてたまらなく鬱陶しくなる」

(“Uchuu no shashin wo miru to, kirei da kedo, jinrui wa tada no soukai no ichizoku nanda to omoete tamaranaku uttoushiku naru.”)

[“When I see pictures of space, they’re beautiful, but it reminds me of how humanity is just a tiny speck in a vast sea, which is unbearably depressing.”]

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Keeping the mood, and the pocket, light

軽薄短小
kei.haku.tan.shou

Literally: light – dilute – short – small

Alternately: Of a thing: small and light. By metaphorical extension, a person whose character is shallow; a hollow person with no substance to them.

Notes: The physical meaning has apparently become widespread since around the 1980s, as a positive trait to be sought after in goods such as electronics.

KeiHakuTanShouJo

The watch, or the woman? You decide! (Actually it’s from an ad for Skagen “hybrid smartwatches.” So… yeah, you decide.)

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Magic Monday: AI Magic 3

Week 3: Magical Happyfun Singalong Time

This is the old magic, the magic of voice and drum. Words are magic, and math is magic, and some spells combine these in the sorcery of song. Strict GMs may require a Perform check.

Song of the Unworthy

This tuneless, amelodic ditty is something you must croon to yourself, murmuring and stumbling as if trying to recall a song that you haven’t heard or sung in many years. As long as you can keep this up, you are Beneath Notice. Others are technically aware of your presence, but they don’t care, and so as long as you do nothing but slip unobtrusively by while singing, your presence will go as unremarked-on as if you had been invisible and soundless. Even animals are affected, if they are social enough to be able to assign relative importance or standing to others around them.

Call to the Daring

This bold paean draws others to you: it promises danger and excitement; worthy challenges and proportional rewards. In a fight it draw the attention of all; brave or opportunistic foes will seek you out, while the most cowardly or reluctant will flee. In a less hostile situation the Call will draw willing followers and helpers, although your cause must be appealing to them if you want them to stay; the attraction ends with the last note of the song.

Song of the Ball

This magical children’s rhyme summons a sphere of shining energy that takes on physical properties specified and adjusted as desired in the lyrics. It can be thrown, kicked, bounced, and otherwise treated like an ordinary toy ball. Advanced magicians can learn how to make it hover, stick to various materials, split into multiple smaller balls, and other tricks along those lines.

Song of Distraction

This rhythmic chant, contrary to what one might expect from its name, grants you deep focus. The Song doesn’t even need to be loud enough for anyone to hear, but as long as you are chanting, there is little that can break your concentration. Heat, cold, pain, sights and sounds that should fill one with horror or joy, hostile magic; none of these will penetrate the still, calm circle of the Song. It is said that for a master magician, even Death can be held at bay.

Song of the Darn

This practical tailor’s tune, easy peasy, repairs holes, tears, or similar damage to a piece of fabric.

Song of Blord

It is not clear who, or what, Blord is: extradimensional wanderer or occasionally-corporeal spirit, fae trickster or elder god. Whatever it is, this inhuman hymn incites a localized manifestation of Blord’s essence. Normal physical and even magical rules gradually lose their power as events and things alike descend from ordinary to unusual, to magical realism, through surrealism and careen toward abstract impressionism. Only those who know (and join) the hymn, or those especially skilled at the reality-manipulation of lucid dreaming, have any chance of surviving unscathed even this long, and beyond this point, arcane tidal forces seem to set in and the Song forcibly ends itself as something catastrophic befalls the singer. It is not recommended that you use this Song even a moment longer than is absolutely necessary.

Song of Goom

This lilting, arrhythmic air summons a funny, fuzzy, chubby little energetic pet something for a brief time. It is playful and friendly and seems to especially love children; the perfect companion for an afternoon’s entertainment while the adults concentrate on more serious work.

Singing only the stressed syllables, with certain alterations, changes this spell into the Song of the Doom Goom. This variant also summons something that, while “fuzzy” and “chubby” in a certain sense of the words, and definitely “energetic” and “playful,” is dramatically less “funny” and “friendly” and is certainly not recommended for children.

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Like borrowing a cup

(Not a cup of sugar, mind you. Just a cup.)

人の褌で相撲を取る
(Hito no fundoshi de sumou wo toru;
Doing sumo in someone else’s loincloth”)

Definition:

Using something that belongs to someone else for your own benefit or profit. Taking advantage of somebody else’s tools, work, or other resources for personal gain. This saying does not apply to situations such as support that someone else offered unlooked-for. It carries a strong implication of using the people around you in an underhanded way to cheat or cut corners. Like borrowing somebody else’s ritual sumo garment to compete in, perhaps because you were too lazy or stingy to just buy one of your own.

Breakdown:

We begin four characters in, with the particle で (de). In this case, the particle marks the means by which an action is performed, and that means is the noun 褌 (fundoshi), “loincloth.” What loincloth in particular is specified by using associative particle の (no) to connect it with noun 人 (hito), “person.” (In this case, the term takes on the nuance of “some random person,” “somebody else (whom you wouldn’t have expected to be involved).”

Moving in the other direction, the verb phrase performed with someone else’s loincloth starts with the noun 相撲 (sumou), “sumo wrestling.” The particle を (wo) marks this as the direct object of the actual verb; the proper verb in Japanese for “doing” sumo turns out to be 取る (toru), literally “to take,” here in conclusive form.

Notes:

Alert readers will remember seeing the character 褌 with a different reading not too long ago.

This saying comes to us from 『滑稽四十八癖』(Kokkei shijuuhachi guse), an 1885 text by comic writer Shikitei Sanba (式亭三馬). (The work’s title may ring a bell as an allusion to the extended form of this saying.)

Some variants make the nuance of 人 explicit by replacing it with 他人, “another person,” “others.” This compound may be pronounced tanin or, as above, hito. In the context of this kotowaza, sumou can also be written 角力, apparently without any change in meaning pronunciation.

Example sentence:

高校の間ずっと人の褌で相撲を取るように、エッセイを書くことになったら、友達から借りた資料だけで書いていたジョンは、大学生になってすぐ単位を落としてショックを受けた。

(Koukou no aida zutto hito no fundoshi de sumou wo toru you ni, essei wo kaku koto ni nattara, tomodachi kara karita shiryou dake de kaiteita Jon wa, daigakusei ni natte sugu tan’i wo otoshite shokku wo uketa.)

[John, who through all of high school had ploughed his fields with other people’s calves by only using materials borrowed from his friends when it came time to write an essay, received a shock when he failed a class immediately after entering college.]

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Gettin’ biblical before the match

緊褌一番
kin.kon.ichi.ban

Literally: tense – loincloth – one – [ordinal counter]

Alternately: To brace yourself mentally for something. To prepare to face difficulty or hardship, or at least a high-level competition of some sort. Literally, to gird one’s loins.

Notes: 緊褌 refers to tightening up one’s loincloth; the 一番 refers to the seriousness of the situation, or of the person’s emotional state as they prepare. The character 褌 on its own can be read as fundoshi, a term that might be familiar to sumo enthusiasts.

KinKonTanKou

Miners wearing fundoshi in a northern Kyushu coal mine in 1947; source.

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