What is the zaru verb ending?

Three Wise Monkeys at Nikko
Photo credit: suika*2009 (real name unknown) / CC licence

The zaru (ざる) in manekarezaru kyaku (招かれざる客), the Japanese translation of the film title "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" is a cute way of saying manekarenai kyaku (招かれない客). -(a)zaru is a strange alternate of -(a)nu (apparently a contraction of -(a)zu aru) that caught on in Japan long ago and is still used for its classical flavour.

The Japanese word for monkey is saru (サル,猿), which sounds like the zaru ending. Hence "Don't see, don't hear, don't say," can be written as mizaru, kikazaru, iwazaru (見ざる言わざる聞かざる) or sometimes 見猿言わ猿聞か猿 using the kanji for monkey, 猿. This is translated into the "See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil" of the three wise monkeys.

The zaru wo enai ending is a combination of this negative with enai, meaning "not possible". So together they mean "compelled to do".


Partly edited from a newsgroup post by Bart Mathias.

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