where the writers are
One and Not the Same

Do you think of 一 (one) as representing a lot or a little? This isn't necessarily a question about Japanese; when English speakers refer to coming together as one, it conveys that many people have united. On the other hand, as Aimee Mann says, one is the loneliest number that you'll ever do.

I've encountered a few 一 terms that threw me off. One popped up in the forthcoming essay 1848 on 滅 (to destroy; annihilate; cease to exist; ruin) in this sample sentence for 滅茶滅茶 (めちゃめちゃ: (1) disorderly; messy; ruined; (2) absurd; unreasonable; excessive; rash):

一体だれが私の名簿を滅茶滅茶にしたのだ。 
Who in the world has gone and messed up my list of names?

I knew 私* (わたし: I), of course, and I could easily locate 名簿 (めいぼ: list of names) in the dictionary. But what in the world was going on with that blue term? 

Here's what I learned it could mean:

一体 (いったい: (1) (before an interrogative, forms an emphatic question) ... the heck (e.g., "what the heck?"); ... in the world (e.g., "why in the world?"); ... on earth (e.g., "who on earth?"); (2) 1 object; 1 body; unity; (3) 1 form; 1 style; (4) 1 Buddhist image (or carving, etc.))     1 + body

Clearly, the first definition applies—and what a great definition it is! It appears that only the second definitions match the breakdown, so where in the heck did the initial meanings come from? Who on earth knows? But I'm happy to see that our kanji 一 conveys a sense of singularity at least some of the time.

If you tack on に, the meaning changes significantly:

一体に (いったいに: generally; in general)

This turns out to be quite a rare and old-fashioned term. Still, it's of interest because with the addition of に, we go from just one of something (one object, which is a small amount) to most of something (the majority). That is, with "generally," we have the large kind of "one," as when we all pull together as a team. (Now I'm channeling Pink Floyd instead of Aimee Mann.)

[To read the rest, go to Joy o' Kanji!]