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In the context of 「冬場は朝の空気がピンと張{は}りつめている」I'm confused about 「張りつめている」.

I've seen examples where 空気が張りつめている means a tense atmosphere/air, but how would this be expressed in the context of "winter morning air"? Can winter morning air be "tense"? And would this a positive or negative feeling?

I've come across a synonym in an online dictionary that said "tingling" but gave no example. When I think of "tingling/tingley" I think of "electrifying" or "chill(ing)" - something that sends a feeling through your body - so would it be a stretch to say that this could possibly be similar to brisk or crisp or bracing (or any other synonym of "brisk")? I just can't get past a description of winter morning air as being tense or stifling.

  • I think that "ピンと張りつめている" something in the alert such as in a serious situation of the workplace or sports game. I mean it is in a situation you can't make any mistake. So, it might be tense in that situation. As for winter morning air, I think the expressions you gave are correct. I feel the air is crisp in the winter morning. But you might be worried about making the car somewhat warm before some trouble occurring since it's cold. If you imagine you and a winter morning air in one environment, I think you might feel the tense air. – user25382 Sep 8 '17 at 0:05
  • Not an answer because my confidence in this one isn't 100% but 張りつめる can also be interpreted as "freezing" to some degree. The fact that there is ピン also makes me think of ぴんと張る as far as pulling tight. So, to say that "The winter morning air is tightening" is descriptive of what it is doing to someone or something and less of what the atmosphere itself is doing? Something that in English might be expressed as "so cold it hurts"? – psosuna Sep 8 '17 at 0:08
  • @psosuna - like "intensifying" ? Yes, "tightening" is also one of the other definitions but it's not a word we would apply to weather. – squidlydeux Sep 8 '17 at 0:36
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    @squidlydeux It is describing the normal event in winter morning using a metaphorical expression rather than describing the weather in particular day. – user25382 Sep 8 '17 at 1:14
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    @psosuna I think "so cold it hurts" works in the same way in Japanese. I meant, in general, "空気がピンと張りつめている" describes that you are in a somewhat stressful situation such as an examination everybody working on really hard. So, you feel the pressure from the atmosphere. – user25382 Sep 8 '17 at 2:37
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If 空気がピンと張っている is difficult to understand, I think that "空気が澄んでいる: the air/atmosphere is pure" is close. If the temperature is low and dry, there usually is not so much water vapor in the air, it normally doesn't contain much dust, sand or something. Then you can feel the pure air. You may feel lively. I think it's a close feel of "空気がピンと張り詰めている".

New edition of Edit 1:

Normally on a cold day, air(it contains water vapor) which is a gaseous state tends to be solid state, which is likely to be a crystal. It's more ordered and lucid. if you have ever touched crystal, it's rigid, tense.

"空気がピンと張っている” is more of a metaphorical expression, it's not really talking about physics or chemistry though, but it might be related to the condition that the air has been changing into a more rigid state.

Below Old edition: which is more related to stifling case, stressful situation.

"張る" is used when you string your guitar. ギターの弦を強く張る. implies to string your guitar tighter. If you ever have strung a guitar and the string is not tight, it sounds really dull and not tense. On the other hand, if your guitar string is very tight, it sounds sharper but maybe making you worry about due to the high tension of guitar string. It might lead to the guitar being broken. "空気がピンと張り詰めている" is a metaphorical expression. But it may be related to guitar. The high strung guitar is high tension, then it leads to broken guitar. So, if the air of some situation is in a high tension, it might be going to be broken.

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English

空気{くうき}がピンと張{は}り詰{つ}めている
Literally it could be said, "the air is tightly tense up to the limit".

In Japanese, this is the common expression describing the temperature is very low in winter. Please remember it as a set phrase. It has nothing to do with "to be tense" in English, but as kimi Tanaka explains earnestly, in Japanese we feel the air tightens metaphorically when it is cold like a string of the giutar "is in high tension".

On the contrary, we say "寒{さむ}さが緩{ゆる}む It gets warmer. literally the cold temperature becomes loosened". "To loosen" is an antonym for "to tighten" or "to strain". When it gets warmer, the cat lies in a sunny place and often looks "get relaxed" or "be loosened".

If you can understand a little that "寒さが緩む" means "it gets warmer", please understand that "空気が張り詰める" or "空気がピンと張る" means "the temperature is low" as the opposite meaning of "空気が緩む".


EDIT

"空気がピンと張り詰める" must be cold and dry that is also written in kimi Tanaka's answer.

I looked up in an English dictionary at hand and I found the meaning for "crisp". It says:

crisp

adj.
1. hard; dry; easily broken
...
3. (of the air, weather, etx.) cold, dry, and fresh: crisp winter day
...

I think the third meaning of "crisp" is something like "空気がピンと張り詰めている".

日本語

空気がピンと張り詰めている

日本語では冬になって、気温が大変低いことをこのように表現します。セットフレーズとして覚えてください。英語の to be tense とは全く関係ありませんが、kimi Tanakaさんが丁寧に説明しているように、日本語では寒いことをギターの「弦が張っている」ように感じて、比喩的に表現します。

逆に、気温が上昇して暖かくなることを、「寒さが緩{ゆる}む」と言います。「緩む」は「張る」や「緊張する」の反意語です。暖かくなると、猫が日当たりの良い場所で体を伸ばして「弛緩している」あるいは「リラックスして寝そべって」姿をよく見ます。「弛緩する」は 英語では get relaxed or be loosened に当たります。

「寒さが緩む」が暖かくなることであると少し理解できるなら、その反対の意味として「空気がピンと張る」「空気が張り詰める」は「気温が低い」ことだと理解してください。

  • [気温が低い] は体感温度の事でしょうか? "空気がピンと張る"は比喩表現なので、気温は一般的な感覚で言うと温度計など測定し、何か数値が出たと言う表現だと思います。 – user25382 Sep 11 '17 at 11:27
  • @kimi Tanaka: 体感か温度計の測定値かはあまり考えませんでした。たぶん「今朝は寒いね!」ですから、体感でしょうね。 – mackygoo Sep 11 '17 at 11:41

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