koi

This word’s sound may suggest affected shyness on the part of its object, but one would hope otherwise. After all, if you have bought that common collocation of koi, a pond, you will want these variously coloured (selectively bred) fish to be on ornamental display, or else you will be more inclined to the English name of the species: carp. In Japan, whence this word, the fish are symbols of love and affection, because another word koi means “love” and “affection” (koi no ochiru is “fall in love” – or perhaps “drop the carp”?). So if you present a pond to your paramour, you will hope that neither koi nor companion will be coy. But spelling can matter more than just that much: the k beginning and i ending on this word both signal foreignness; a coloured carp pond is not exotic, and a coy pond would not seem so, but a koi pond, now, that “ain’t from around here.” One may be tempted to see the word in ideographic ways: the k like a fish tail, the o like an eye or a pond, and the i… well, perhaps like the lonely sweetheart standing by pond’s edge wondering where his fish and fiancée have fled to.

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