Well, I’m the Japanese language did spark my scientific mind. Often, when looking up words in a dictionary or learning new kanji, I’m getting insights into how words are made up, where they come from, why they mean what they do and how it all fits in the historical context of Japanese and Asian culture. As the title says, I’ll post those tidbits here to share them with anyone who’s interested and as a reminder for myself.
And everyone learning Japanese might find a few things here that help them understand the language better or make it easier to remember thmmar/vocabulary.
Let me give you a little example what I mean before I end my entry. (I like puns. They’re just so bunny.)
I can clearly remember how, some years ago, when I visited an introductory course to Japanese (Volkshochschule, Germany), we treated how to classify verb actions and our teacher told us:
“See, the word ‘zenzen’ means ‘not at all’ and we use it to say things such as ‘I didn’t sleep at all.’ But here’s the clou: When we Japanese negate something, we do it thoroughly. If you’re going to use ‘zenzen’, you must also negate the verb. Make sure you remember that.”
Naturally, nobody did. During next lesson, the lesson after that, every lesson someone managed forget to negate the verb. And how should they remember when the explanation sucks? “zenzen” is written 全然, which weren’t told, of course. Anyway, from that it’s now obvious that it means “all”, “everything.” Which explains why you have negate the verb if you wish to say “nothing.”
Sure, nowadays “zenzen” is only used with a negative verb anymore and one could say it means “not at all”, in a sense, disregarding the etymlogy. But as I’m trying to show you here, which’s easier to remember? Which does make sense? And to complicate things, “zenzen” is used in contemporary Japanese to mean “all,” such as in 全然いいよ（”I’m totally fine.”, “It’s alright.”) What do we learn from that? Don’t let native speakers teach their language without any training on how to teach.
An advice for the future: If you don’t know, consult a dictionary.