A potty mouth is a force multiplier

(Yamai wa kuchi yori iri wazawai wa kuchi yori izu;
“Disease enters from the mouth and disaster exits from the mouth”)


Disease enters the body through your mouth when you eat and drink; calamity and misfortune arise from the words that come out of your mouth. A warning to be careful with one’s words.


This is another saying composed of two parallel phrases; in this case verb phrases. In the first we have the noun 病 (yamai), “sickness,” marked as the topic of discussion by the particle は (wa). This is followed by the noun 口 (kuchi), “mouth,” marked as the origin of some motion by the particle より (yori), “from.” The motion in this case is 入る (iru), “to enter,” in conjunctive form. (Note that, just as in last week’s saying, this is an archaic form of the verb.)

The second half has in place of sickness 禍 (wazawai), “calamity,” and the repetition of は creates an explicit contrast between the two halves of the saying, beyond the effect of the parallel structure. 口より is as before, but in this case the verb is 出ず (izu), an archaic form of the verb now mostly seen as 出る (deru), “to go out,” although izu is more commonly found as 出づ. Izu appears here in sentence-final form.


Obviously this saying displays an incomplete understanding of disease. But given the antiquity of its origins and focus on the need for cautious speech, I’m sure that can be forgiven. The kotowaza apparently comes to us from third-century Chinese poet Fu Xuan (傅玄) via the Man’yoshu.

This saying may be invoked in abbreviated form as 禍は口から. It can also be thought of as a more egalitarian variation on the same theme as 綸言汗の如し. Closer to home, there are a number of other phrases associating catastrophe with (thoughtless words that come out of) one’s mouth, such as 口は禍の門 (kuchi wa wazawai no kado, “The mouth is disaster’s gateway”).

Example sentence:


(“Yamai wa kuchi yori iri wazawai wa kuchi yori izu to iu no de, mainichi jankufuudo wo kutte, tsune ni kimagure ni tsuiito wo hanatteiru aitsu wa, kitto itsumo ironnna wazawai wo maneiteru ni chigai nai.”)

[“They say that disease comes in through the mouth and disaster comes out of it, so that guy eating junk food every day and tweeting on a whim is doubtless inviting all kinds of disasters.”]

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I grind my bones to make my bread


Literally: powder – bone – smash – body

Alternately: To work as hard as you can. To give your all. In English we may work our fingers to the bone, but in Japanese you work until your bones themselves have been crushed to dust. Figuratively, of course.

Notes: This expression apparently comes from a 9th-century CE Chinese novel centering on a courtesan and her lover, Huo Xiaoyu zhuan (霍小玉傳).

The characters can be rearranged to a degree – 粉身砕骨, 砕骨粉身, and 砕身粉骨 are rare but equally valid variations.


Perhaps it’s about risking life and limb in battle.


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Not applicable to salamanders

(Tonde hi ni iru natsu no mushi; “A summer bug that flies into a flame”)


Continuing forward even though doing so means rushing, or at least preceding, headlong into danger. Recklessly inviting danger. “Like a moth to a flame,” except instead of a moth specifically it’s a “summer insect.”


The structure on this one might be a little tricky – it’s two verb phrases describing a noun phrase. The first verb phrases consists solely of the verb 飛ぶ (tobu), “to fly,” in conjunctive form. The second has the verb 入る (iru), “enter,” in prenominal form, connected by the directional particle に (ni) to the noun 火 (hi), “flame.” The noun phrase that does the flying and the entering is 虫 (mushi), “insect” or “critter” (the character is used for everything from true insects to spiders to snakes), although in this case likely the various flies and bugs that breed in the summer and swarm around lights at night. This detail is provided by using the associative particle の (no) to connect 虫 to 夏 (natsu), “summer.”


Reading 入る as hairu, in accordance with modern grammar, is considered an error. This saying comes to us from an eleven-hundred-year-old poetic anthology called the Kokin wakashuu (古今和歌集).

Example sentence:


(“Sensei no hyoujou ga shidai ni kewashiku natte iku no ni kidzukazu, tonde hi ni iru natsu no mushi no you ni shaberi tsudzukeru Sumida-kun de atta.”)

[“And there was Sumida, charging into the lion’s den, talking and talking without noticing that the teacher’s expression was growing ever more fearsome.”]

Tonde den ni au natsu no mushi

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Pretty words, pretty face, ugly heart


Literally: skill – word – command – color

Alternately: Flattery. Blandishment. Pretty words and ingratiating facial expressions, usually backed by a desire to deceive or manipulate. Making nice with someone but hiding ill intent.

Notes: This yojijukugo comes to us from the first chapter of the Analects of Confucius. It can be expanded into the saying 巧言令色少なし仁 (kougenreishoku sukunashi jin), “flattery with little benevolence,” or by extension “Those who resort to flattery often lack compassion.” Like many other compounds, this one comprises two two-character words: 巧言 denotes pretty words designed to create good feelings in the person you’re talking to; 令色 is wearing a pleasant expression.


Martin Schkreli displaying the Sociopath Smile. You know who else I’m thinking of, by this point.

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Nosce te ipsum

(Kare wo shiri onore wo shireba hyakusen ayaukarazu;
“When you know your opponent and yourself, you need not fear a hundred battles.”)


If you know the strengths, weaknesses, and situation of yourself, your allies, and your foes, then you need never fear defeat even through a hundred battles. Information and awareness, especially self-awareness, are vital to success.


We begin with a conditional clause, marked by and ending with the suffix ば (ba). The conditional suffix applies to two verb phrases, both using the particle を (wo) to mark a noun as the object of the verb 知る (shiru), “to know.” In the first phrase, the noun is 彼 (kare), often translated as “he” but in this case meaning “that person,” or in this context, one’s opponent in battle. In the second phrase, the noun is 己 (onore), “self.” In the first phrase, the verb is in conjunctive form, allowing it to connect to the second. And in the second, it’s in perfective form, connecting with a ば that is conditional rather than hypothetical – that is to say, in Japanese it’s a “when” ba rather than an “if” ba.

The latter part of the saying comprises the number 百 (hyaku), “hundred,” the noun 戦 (sen), “battle,” and the adverb 殆うく (ayauku), “barely,” “with danger,” in negative sentence-final form.


殆 is no longer a standard character for “dangerous,” nor is ayauku a standard reading for this character. Although 危 is not in the original text, using it is apparently not considered an error in contemporary Japanese.

As you may well have expected, this saying comes straight from Sun Tzu’s The Art of War – specifically the third chapter, on “strategic attack” (謀攻).

Example sentence:


(Kare wo shiri onore wo shireba hyakusen ayaukarazu to iu no ni, ano seijika wa suriru no tame ni sensou gokko shitagatteru mitai da na. Hito no koto wa oroka, onore no koto sura shiranai kuse ni.”)

[“They say that when you know your opponent and know yourself, you need not fear a hundred battles – but that politician seems to want to play at war just for the thrill. Even though – much less knowing others – he doesn’t even know himself.”]

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No words, but four characters


Literally: say – language – road – sever

Alternately: Outrageous; scandalous; inexcusable; absurd; unreasonable; terrible; something so far beyond the pale that you don’t even have words to describe how crazy it is. Mostly used for bad things.

Notes: This compound comes to us from a Buddhist phrase in the Vimalakirti Sutra (維摩経, Yuimakyou) pointing to the impossibility of explaining Enlightenment using mere words; the insufficiency of language to describe higher reality.

There exists a commonly-used homonym to the first half of this compound in the form of 言語 (gengo), “language,” but in this compound the characters can only be read as gongo. Similarly, while some people write the latter half as homophone 同断, this is considered an error, because 同 (“the same”) makes no sense in context, while 道 refers to the act of expressing something with words.


Also the name of an apparently crappy and short-lived culture mag.

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Magic Monday – Physical magic – I’m’a cut you!



Hamonnoah Hahd (Embladen; Spirit Sword; Psiblade)

Physical adepts of the Fells often fight bare-handed, and when resorting to weapons they often fight with sticks instead of metal weapons. That doesn’t mean they can’t cut things when they need to, though; this technique allows the practitioner to extend their personal energy into an object and surround parts of it with an aura of “sharpness.” In Felsian hands, a mere twig may be as dangerous as a dagger, a stick like a sword, or a staff like a spear. While that much is widely known through tales, it often comes as a surprise when a high-ranking adept reveals that almost anything can be embladened, and the surprise is often fatal.

The base difficulty of this technique is d6, and the base cost depends on the size of the tool being embladened: one strain for hand or smaller; two for arm; three for chest, and so on. The sharpness may be turned on and off at will, but as long as the technique is maintained, all the practitioner’s rolls have their difficulty increased by a step. Any material hard enough to take an edge normally, such as many woods, can be embladened relatively easily, an edge can be added to almost anything. Soft objects may be embladened by increasing the difficulty and cost by one each, and even amorphous non-object substances such as bread dough can be empowered, albeit through a two-step difficulty increase and doubled costs. Royal practitioners learn the secret of embladening parts of their own bodies, although this adds a cost of harm according to the size: one point for a finger-sized part, two for hand-sized, and so on.

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