[FOUNTAIN]The wonder of words

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[FOUNTAIN]The wonder of words

James Curtis Hepburn (1815-1911), a physician and Presbyterian missionary who graduated from Princeton University, was the grandfather of Katharine Hepburn, the Hollywood actress famous for such movies as "Summertime" (1955), "Suddenly, Last Summer" (1959) and "On Golden Pond" (1981). Dr. Hepburn was dispatched to Yokohama, Japan, in 1859. He opened and operated a hospital there while preaching Christianity, translating the Bible into Japanese and teaching. One of his achievements was to create the first Japanese-English dictionary.

The year Dr. Hepburn settled in Yokohama, Yukichi Fukuzawa, then an ambitious 24-year-old, visited the port city. When Yokohama opened to foreigners in 1858, Western civilization and its attendant products began to show up in the port, which had once been a quiet fishing village. Mr. Fukuzawa had been serving as a teacher in Tokyo of the Dutch language, which was the first foreign language used in Japan.

Mr. Fukuzawa later wrote in his autobiography, "I went sightseeing in Yokohama to see the port's conditions after it opened to foreigners. I visited stores opened by foreigners, but they did not understand what I was saying, nor did I understand them. I could not read either store signs or trademarks on bottles. I will not do anything unless I know English. I have made my mind to study English with new determination - beginning tomorrow."

Mr. Fukuzawa did eventually master English through self-education. In addition, he coined a number of new Japanese words that corresponded to Western technical terms, through various translations and writings.

A few days ago, President George W. Bush referred to the works of Mr. Fukuzawa in a speech to the Japanese Diet. Mr. Bush said Mr. Fukuzawa "enriched the Japanese language" by coining a new word "kyoso," for he found no Japanese equivalent to the English word "competition" when translating an economic textbook into Japanese.

"But kyoso is more than just a word," Mr. Bush went on. "More than a century ago, competition helped propel Japan's economy into the modern era. A half century ago, competition accelerated a postwar economic miracle admired by the world." Through these comments, Mr. Bush indirectly urged Japan to apply the principle of free competition to its market with the aim of reforming a stalled economy. The comments are somewhat different from the formal and serious remarks Mr. Bush made during his visit to Korea.

The writer is a deputy international news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Noh Jae-huyn

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