In truth, I’m feeling feint


Literally: empty – empty – truth – truth

Alternately: Two sides in a fierce battle, using every strategy and wile they can think of. Striving to avoid your enemy’s strengths (実) and attack their weaknesses (虚). Alternately, using a mixture of truth and falsehood in an attempt to draw out someone’s true feelings.

Notes: The second of each doubled character may be replaced with the doubling mark 々… but please use it for either neither of them, or both; don’t use it with just one kanji and leave the other.


Just a regular newspaper Go puzzle

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The evillest nom

(Kaiinu ni te wo kamareru;
“Bitten on the hand by your pet dog”)


To be betrayed or harmed in some way by someone you had deeply cared for, or taken care of on a regular basis. (In other words, it doesn’t apply to a stranger whom you once did a favor for, etc.)


We begin with the verb 飼う (kau), “to keep / raise / feed (an animal),” in conjunctive form, which allows it to function as a noun. This noun compounds with, and modifies, the noun 犬 (inu), “dog.” Direction particle に (ni), “from,” marks the dog-one-raised as the source of the verb 噛む (kamu), “to bite.” This verb appears in imperfective form and takes the passive formation れる (reru). The direct object of the “being bitten” is marked by particle を (wo); this object is the noun 手 (te), “hand.”


This is interesting, because in English we have a parallel saying, “to bite the hand that feeds you.” The content is almost exactly the same (although the English lacks the canine specificity and could apply to a one-off favor being repaid with harm), but from the opposite point of view.

Example sentence:


(“Rei no jouin giin wa dare yori mo saki ni ano kakumeiteki na seijika wo shien shita ippou de, dare yori mo bari zougon wo abisarete, dare yori mo saki ni suterareta. Hitokoto mo kuchi wa kikanai ga, nouri de kaiinu ni te wo kamareta to kangaeteiru n ja nai ka na.”)

[“Although this senator gave his support to that revolutionary politician before anyone else, he was also showered with abuse more than any other, and thrown away before any other. He doesn’t say anything about it, but in the back of his mind he must feel like he was bitten by the dog he’d raised.”]

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See also: obstruction of justice


Literally: proof – foothold / based on – conceal – destroy

Alternately: Destruction, suppression, or concealment of evidence. This phrase may be used metaphorically, but is most commonly encountered as actual criminal-justice jargon.

Notes: Some legal contexts may replace 拠 with 憑 (rare character hyou, similarly “depend on,” “evidence” as well as, less relevantly here, “haunt” or “possess”) or add 罪 (tsumi), “crime” or “sin.” Note that in Japanese law, 証拠隠滅 falls under the broader crime of 犯人蔵匿及び証拠隠滅の罪 (hannin zoutoku oyobi shouko inmetsu no tsumi), literally “the crime of harboring a criminal and destroying evidence,” AKA “spoliation of evidence.”


An amusing presentation that alludes to a certain Sci-Fi anime, from this random blog.

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Not even jackalopes, please

(Kairyoku ranshin wo katarazu; “Speaking not of spirits and demons”)


A wise person does not indulge in talking about irrational or unreasonable things; a great person does not dabble in conspiracy or superstition. When you make an assertion, you need to make it based on facts and evidence rather than vague supposition or unconfirmed impressions – especially if you’re in a position where your words have power.


This simple phrase is completed by the verb 語る (kataru), “to talk about,” “to tell (a story),” in imperfective form and with negative suffix ず (zu) in conclusive form. The particle を (wo) tells us the object of this verb; in this case, compound noun (and yojijukugo) 怪力乱神 (kai ryoku ran shin), literally “mysterious power disordered god(s),” but taken together, referring more generally to mysterious or supernatural phenomena.


This admonition comes to us from the Analects of Confucious (論語, Japanese Rongo).

There are contexts in which 怪力 may be pronounced kairiki. This saying is not one of them.

Example sentence:


(“Canada no sonzai wa tada no toshi densetsu da nante iu inbousetsu wa asobi ni shitara omoshiroi kamoshirenai kedo, sasuga ni joushiki ni sakaratteru kara, tomodachi no aida de shika hanasanai hou ga ii. Kairyoku ranshin wo katarazu tte iu nda.”)

[“It might be entertaining to play around with conspiracy theories, like saying that Canada is just an urban legend. But it does go against common sense, and it’s something best saved for when you’re with friends. In other situations there’s no call for Bigfoot stories.”]

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What you don’t know CAN kill you


Literally: summer – insect – doubt – ice

Alternately: A person of extremely limited experience, knowledge, and discernment. Someone ignorant, doubtful, or distrustful of everything that falls outside of their own (meager) personal experience. Like an insect that is born and dies all within the span of a single summer, which does not believe that winter ice even exists.

Notes: For historical reasons, this may also be read as 夏虫氷を疑う (natsu mushi koori wo utagau); “ice” may also be rendered with the rare/archaic character 冰 without any change in meaning or pronunciation.

This reportedly comes to us from foundational Taoist philosopher Zhuang Zhou (荘子, Japanese Sou Shi), aka Zhuangzi, found in the “Autumn Floods” (秋水, Shuusui) section of the eponymous Zhuangzi text.

There are also longer kotowaza variations on this theme, including the cute image of 夏の虫冰を笑う (natsu no mushi koori wo warau), “the summer insect laughs at (the idea of) ice.”

A section of a principal’s address to an elementary school, although he inverts the saying by suggesting that the listeners don’t even know “true heat.”
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Everyone knows they prefer accordions

(Ushi ni tai shite koto wo danzu; “Playing a koto for a cow”)


No matter what you say to a fool, your words are wasted. Even the most moving stories or the most edifying sermon, or the most beautiful music, will fail to move the heart of a cow.


We begin at the end, with verb 弾ず (danzu), “to play a stringed instrument,” in conclusive form. This is an interesting usage because the character 弾 indicates a sort of elastic snap, and can refer all sorts of related concepts from beads to bullets, stimulation to momentum, popping to repulsion. In this case it refers to the twang of a plucked string, but even for that single meaning, 弾く (hajiku), 弾じる (danjiru), or 弾ずる (danzuru) would all be more common renditions than the aggressive pithiness of danzu. (Note that of the three alternatives, the latter two are common ways of making a single kanji character – grammatically a noun – into a verb, and function identically to simply adding する (suru).)

Anyway, particle を (wo) marks noun 琴 (koto), “koto,” a zither-like stringed instrument, as the direct object of the playing. Skipping back to the beginning, we find the noun 牛 (ushi), “cow.” And the relationship between the cow and the koto being played is described by directional particle に (ni), noun 対 (tai), “with regard to,” and verb する (suru), which turns the preceding noun into a verb, and appears in conjunctive form in order to attach this clause to the koto’s clause.


Note that the koto is Japan’s national instrument; also that, with 13-string and 17-string variants, it seems to have been chosen as an example of the pinnacle of musical mastery.

Apparently, this saying comes to us from the Zuting shiyuan (祖庭事苑, Japanese Sotei jien), a Chinese Song-era annotated dictionary of Zen-related terminology from around 1100 CE. The story goes that in the state of Lu, a famed musician encountered a cow while out walking. Inspired by the pastoral scene, he began playing with his utmost skill, but the cow remained completely unresponsive. When he tried a more common tune, though, the high notes seemed to remind the cow of the sound of biting flies, so it perked up and became attentive. The great scholar concluded, quite rationally, that cows simply have no taste when it comes to music.

That said, it’s quite easy to find videos online nowadays of cows strolling over to watch curiously as humans play music at them, so maybe he just didn’t know his audience.

Example sentence:


(“Jibun no itteiru koto wa donna ni gouriteki da to omotte mo, intaanetto de touron suru no wa shosen, ushi ni tai shite koto wo danzu you ni jikan no mudadzukai ni suginai no da to omoete kita.”)

[“I came to believe that no matter how rational your words, a debate on the internet was ultimately nothing more than a waste of time, whistling into the void.”]

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Power is small things in large numbers


Literally: one – particle – ten thousand – times (as in multiplication)

Alternately: From something tiny, a huge profit. By extension, an admonition not to look down on small or simple things, because even the most humble appearance can hide vast potential. Also, it seems, a metaphorical appellation for the rice plant, which grows from one grain and produces countless more. And finally, this phrase is a Buddhist teaching that one good deed, no matter how small, can produce myriad good results in the world.

Notes: This saying apparently comes to us from a Buddhist sutra known in Japanese as the 『報恩経』(Houon-kyou), short for 『大方便仏報恩経』 (Daihou benbutsu houon-kyou), literally “Great teaching Buddha gratitude sutra” – if it has a more poetic or standard English name, I haven’t found it yet.


Now imagine that this is full of rice.

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