What is a netsuke?

Word count: 209 words

Reading time: less than 1 minute

If you increase your vocabulary you’ll not only help your reading, you’ll also make your writing more precise. Here is my word of the week, netsuke.

Today’s word comes from a book I’ve just finished reading: The Hare With the Amber Eyes by Edmund du Waal.

A netsuke is a very small wood or ivory carving of an animal, plant or person. Developed in 17th century Japan, the carvings allowed men to carry containers on their pocketless kimonos, by being “fasteners” that allowed the containers to hang from sashes. In a particularly felicitous phrase, De Waal describes netsuke as “small, tough explosion(s) of exactitude.” I have a mini-review of his book on my Facebook page today.

I hadn’t seen the word netsuke before and had started pronouncing it [net’suː’ki] with each syllable accented equally. Then, I met a friend for coffee and was astonished to hear her pronounce it [nets’ki].

A quick check with a talking dictionary confirmed we were both correct, although I don’t think the man’s reading of the word, Japanese fashion, is entirely correct. Japanese is very regular in the timing and stress of its syllables. Each syllable should be pronounced with equal stress and should take about the same amount of time. I think he cuts the second syllable a little short.

The netsuke shown above is approximately one-inch in length and is from Edmund de Waal’s own collection.

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