Ghost Trick’s neat word trick

After the insistent nagging enthusiastic recommendation of a certain friend, I decided to try out the Nintendo DS game Ghost Trick. My attention was instantly drawn by this:


In this game you’re a ghost, and you can interact with the world by “holding onto” objects. The verb used for “hold onto” is tori-tsuku 取り付く, a combination of “pick” and “stick to, attach”. Such combinations are common in Japanese, and -tsuku “to stick” is particularly productive. Tori-tsuku acts as a whole word, but if look into its parts, the etymology neatly suggests the in-game gesture: the player “picks” (tori) an spirit-ball thing with the touchscreen stylus, and then “stick” (tsuku) the stylus to move the energy so as to “attach” it (also tsuku) to the goal.

What’s more, tori-tsuku may also mean “to possess”, as in spirit possession; is this case, it may be written as 取り憑く. By conspicuously avoiding to use Chinese characters, the game freely allows either interpretation. Also, another nuance of the “holding onto” verb is “to get a lead”, which is what your character helps detectives to do.

But wait, there’s more! Tori-tsuku is written phonetically in katakana characters, usually employed for emphasis or foreign words. Given that tori-tsuku is an important action in the game, it would be natural to take it as emphasis and read the word as above. However, it so happens that, if the third character was smaller, it would spell torikku, which is the Japanese reading of English “trick”, as in the game title. Because they chose to write tori-tsuku in katakana, the words become quite similar: トリツク vs. トリック (in fact, being primed by the title, I misread it as “trick” at first…) The game emphasizes this suggestion by coloring the ツ character red when you get to an action scene.

So the titular “ghost trick” is to “hold onto” objects by “possessing” them to “obtain clues”, all suggested by a single word.

2 thoughts on “Ghost Trick’s neat word trick

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *