[lit-ideas] Geisha (Was: Sapir/Whorf Hypothesis)

  • From: Jlsperanza@xxxxxxx
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Sun, 22 Aug 2004 18:03:41 EDT

In a message dated 8/20/2004 9:10:58 AM Eastern Standard Time,  
aamago@xxxxxxxxxxxxx writes:
geisha  girls (essentially prostitutes) and salarymen (essentially johns) 
fills the  misery vacuum that it creates.  Few in this country would think that 
someone who can relate only to prostitutes is a happy  person


Interesting. Interesting that Amago qualifies this: 
        "geishas are _essentially_  prostitutes". 
It is my understanding that a geisha is (non-essentially, and  
etymologically) _not_ (essentially) a prostitute. 
If a geisha were, simpliciter, a prostitute, people would use the  word 
'prostitute'. There must be more to the fact that English retains the  exotic 
than indicating origin. 
Etymologically, 'geisha' is a compound of 'gei-' and '-sha', meaning '[to]  
sing' and '[to] dancing' (girl understood -- via ellipsistical). The strict  
equivalent (minus the 'girl') would be Sammy Davis Jr. -- a veritable song and  
dance (person). 
As the entry for 'geisha' in _Encyclopaedia Britannica_ notes, it is via  
synechdoche that 'geisha' became associated with prostitues, when these 'song  
and dance' girls migrated to "Shin Yoshiwara", a quarter of Tokyo which was  
_already_ inhabitated by _real_ Japanese prostitutes.
More from the OED, below.

From the OED
'geisha'. A Japanese girl whose profession is to entertain men by  dancing 
and singing...

1891 E. ARNOLD in Contemp. Rev. Dec. 777 
All Kyôto's geishas  will be there. 
1892 Critic (U.S.) 5 Mar. 139/2 
Most of the  illustrations illustrate that one-half of Japan which 
foreigners, including  authors, usually meet in the gei-sha or 
singing-and-dancing girl. 
1896 HALL & GREENBANK (title), 
The Geisha, a story  of a tea house. A Japanese Musical Play. Ibid. 129 
Geisha are  we, Bidden to be Present to-day at the ceremonee. 
1910 Encycl.  Brit. XI. 553/2 
Geisha..,  strictly the name of the professional dancing and singing girls of 
1922 JOYCE 
Ulysses 95 
And they call me the  jewel of Asia, Of Asia, The geisha. 
1939 B. H. CHAMBERLAIN  Things  Japanese (ed. 6) 460 
Up-to-date garb and  manners make the geisha appear prim and  old-fashioned.

1887 Pall Mall G. 17  Nov. 5/1 
My companion and  I..entered a theatre, where we were regaled with a terribly 
realistic tragedy  and geisha dancing. 
1887 [see KIMONO]. 
1895 'C. HOLLAND' My Japanese  Wife i. 2 
A real mousmé, not a  geisha girl with a past, an ambiguous present, and a 
who-knows-what  future. 
1910  Chambers's Jrnl. Sept. 617/1, 
I have heard of the  geisha girls of Japan. 
1947 J. BERTRAM Shadow of War  VII. iii. 221 
Omori..had enjoyed a  certain reputation as a home of rather superior 
geisha-houses. If not quite a  red-light district.., it was down in the 
as a â??pleasure-quarterâ?? of  Tokyo.


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