Needle Mouse and the Clockwork Octopus

Hedgehog (針鼠/針ねずみ/蝟/ハリネズミ)

There’s a Japanese word that means ‘needle mouse’ when literally translated. What kind of animal do you think it is?

It is in fact a hedgehog. It is written 針鼠 and pronounced harinezumi: 針 (hari) means needle, pin, hook, stinger; thorn, hand (of clock), pointer or staple. 鼠 (nezumi, nezu, shi, sho) means rat, mouse or dark gray. Harinezumi can also be written 針ねずみ, 蝟 or ハリネズミ.

In Mandarin Chinese the character 蝟 (wèi) means hedgehog, and also vulgar, wanton, low, many, varied or porcupine. The simplified version is 猬. Another Chinese word for hedgehog is 刺猬 [刺蝟] (cì​wei) – 刺 (cì​) = stab, prick, irritate or prod.

The word 針鼠 is not used in Chinese, as far as I know, and appears to be a Japanese coinage.

I was inspired to write this post after reading about the needle mouse / hedgehog in The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley, which I finished yesterday. It’s an interesting book that I enjoyed very much, and that includes references to Japanese language and culture, and elements of history, fantasy, sci-fi and magical realism, and also a clockwork octopus, and other clockwork creatures.

The Japanese for clockwork octopus is ぜんまい仕掛けの蛸 (zenmaijikake no tako) or 時計仕掛けの蛸 (tokeijikake no tako). In Chinese it’s 发条章鱼 [發條章魚] (fātiáo zhāngyú).

Sources: Jisho, MDBG Chinese dictionary

This entry was posted in Chinese, English, Japanese, Language, Words and phrases.

One Response to Needle Mouse and the Clockwork Octopus

  1. Kevin says:

    Taking Japanese words apart is always fascinating! 鼠 nezumi (mouse, rat) further derives from elements denoting “one that lives among the roots (i.e. in hidden-away places)”. The (dark) grey colour referred to in Japanese as 鼠色 nezumi iro is thus the “mouse-hue”.

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