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The following is from a scholarly book describing old Jerusalem in the context of the modern geo-political world. The bolded part stands out for me.

市街は、古い巨大な城壁にかこまれています。城壁は[方千]{ほうせん}メートルたらず。 市街の家々は大部分が白っぽい石づくりの、窓の小さい、暗い建物で、そのあいだをせまい石だたみのみちが、迷路のように走っています。(furigana is my addition, not in the original text.)

The meaning seems clear.

The city is surrounded by a massive old castle wall. The walls do not extend more than a thousand meters on a side. The city's houses are dark buildings with small windows built out of white masonry. Between [the houses] run narrow, labyrinthine streets paved in stone.

What stands out are these two points:

  • this usage of 方 is novel to me
  • the text is generally written in formal style, but this sentence just ends in ず

My questions are as follows:

  • Is my reading (読みかた) of [方]{ほう} correct?

  • I'm parsing the meaning as on a side. That seems reasonable. But is it correct? I'm not finding example sentences of this sort of usage in my dictionaries. (An alternative gloss might be as a measure of area, but then the units shouldn't merely be meters, but meters squared. Also, in that case, I'd expect to see 平方, which would have looked strange preceding the number, but I'd have just moved on. Coincidentally(?) the area of the old city is around 1000 square meters. So, looking at the facts of the matter isn't helping distinguish between these two glosses.)

  • Finally, what's going on with たらず? Why didn't author/editor go with something like たりません? Why is there this change in style? Or, is this simply an example of a cleft sentence? (I'm not used to seeing cleft sentences in published scholarly works.)

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  • Are you sure that's not 万 (10000)? Jan 28 at 14:14
  • @user3856370 I'd thought of that myself. But this is a description of the ancient city wall of Jerusalem. I don't think that wall extends for 10000 meters. Being 1000 meters on a side would make sense. Typically, old city walls contain a rather small area by modern standards of city sizes. But even if it were 万, I wouldn't be able to make sense of 万千 and the scale is just way off the chart. (Unless they're talking about the heavenly Jerusalem, but they're not. It's the historical Jerusalem being considered here.)
    – A.Ellett
    Jan 28 at 14:17

1 Answer 1

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See 足らず. Appending it to a number means a little less than (number).

As for 方, it should be archaic (mostly used in translations of classical Chinese). I don't think the usage is really common. From this chiebukuro:

Q: 漢文の史記に出てくる方千里(意味:千里四方)は各辺が千里の正方形という事を表していますか?

A: 一辺が千里の正方形をいいますが、「方千里」は何キロ平米といった具体的な広さを言うのではなく、当時の慣用語で「帝王の直轄領」を意味します。

In the text, it should be literally 1000m x 1000m, and with 足らず, it is like 990m x 990m. As for reading, it should be ほう.


There are several instances from 少納言. I just cite them for record.

今は方百里のあいだにならぶ山なく - 石川淳

邶鄘衞は商紂畿内方千里の地で、周はその地を三分して三監をおいたが、 - 白川静

The former seems to be educated in Kanbun from early age and the latter was a popular Kanji scholar.

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  • Thank you. The meaning of of 足らず was clear to me. But the formality of it was different from the formality of the surrounding sentences, which is why I gave a longer quote. Or are you suggesting that this is just also fixed expression and I shouldn't be caught up in the apparent formality?
    – A.Ellett
    Jan 28 at 15:04
  • And also, are you saying this usage of 方 is indicating area, not length? (I mean, that seems to be what you're saying. I just want to confirm.)
    – A.Ellett
    Jan 28 at 15:07
  • @A.Ellett You mean 足らず is not formal? I don't particularly feel so. Also います in the text makes it sound not that formal. Note 足らず (in this usage) is not really a verb but a part of numerical expression. As for length/area, yes, it seems to be area (by expressing the length of one side of the square). A modern, normal way is 1000メートル四方(の土地). (Maybe not so commonly used for land, but #4)
    – sundowner
    Jan 28 at 15:12
  • Ah, got it. Regarding "足らず is not formal", maybe I'm misspeaking, I just meant that all the other sentences are expressed in forms of ます and です and this one didn't. Maybe I'm misusing the word formal here. But, if I don't think of 足らず so much as a verb, then my issues with so-called formality are mute.
    – A.Ellett
    Jan 28 at 15:15
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    I see. Yea, it somehow omits the copula. It could be 方千メートル足らずです. I guess it is a general issue with ですます style - repeating it too much sounds odd, so writers use other endings by omission or other means.
    – sundowner
    Jan 28 at 15:20

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