Artsy-fartsy

Language Log 2018-08-02

Japanese artists depicted almost anything imaginable concerning humans, animals, and the natural world, and they did so with great skill and emotional power.  One sub-genre of Japanese painting that I recently became aware of is that of the fart battle (hōhi gassen 放屁合戦):

"21 Classic Images Of Japanese Fart Battles From The 19th Century", by Wyatt Redd, ati (7/23/18)

As soon as I perused this astonishing scroll, I could not get the expression "artsy-fartsy" out of my mind, and I wondered how and when English acquired such a peculiar term.  Merriam-Webster says that it's a rhyming compound based on "artsy" and "fart", and that its first known use is 1962.

Note that, in the fourteenth image of this scroll (as presented in Redd's article), an unlucky cat is stricken by the foul stench-stream from a gentleman's anus.

That fart-battle scroll (hōhi gassen emaki 放屁合戦絵巻) is held by Waseda, which generously provides a high-res PDF for our viewing pleasure.

There are others, such as this drabber piece held by the Suntory art museum.

This blog post begins with an image from an even zanier fart-battle scroll.

Nathan Hopson says that his favorite may well be this early Meiji gem depicting heiryoku 屁威力 ("fart power") a play on the homophonous heiryoku 兵力 ("military power") being used to overcome the old bakufu forces.  It's interesting that here we have a three-character expression being used as a pun for a two-character term.

Japanese art never ceases to amaze me, both for its refined wit and for its somaesthetic sensitivity and creativity.

[h.t. John Rohsenow]