Your yore on my mind

旧態依然
kyuu.tai.i.zen

Literally: olden times – condition – depend on – “sort of thing”

Alternately: Something remains as it was, without any development or progress. Unchanged… or even if it did change, not improved in any way as a result.

Notes: This is another compound of compounds: 旧態 is “the way things used to be,” while 依然 is “the way it was at the start.”

Replacing 態 with homophone 体, “body,” or replacing 依然 with homophone 以前, “before,” is considered an error.

KyuuTaiKimu

There was a whole lot of hullabaloo, and then nothing changed.

Posted in Japanese, Yojijukugo | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Hey, simulation!

麻の中の蓬
(Asa no naka no yomogi; “Mugwort amongst hemp”)

Definition:

If you spend time with good people you’ll be influenced and inspired by them, and become a better person yourself. This is the positive-oriented counterpart to last week’s 朱に交われば赤くなる. The Asian mugwort plant is twisty and bushy, while hemp plants grow straight and tall, and apparently growing among the latter helps the former to do so as well.

Breakdown:

This noun phrase begins with the noun 麻 (asa), “hemp (plant),” joined by the associative particle の (no) to the noun 中 (naka), “middle.” This compound in turn is joined by another の to the noun 蓬 (yomogi), “mugwort.”

Notes:

The first two nouns may be compounded into 麻中 (machuu); alternately, the verb つるる (tsuru, “to stand in a row with,” in prenominal form) may be changed in to get 麻につるる蓬 (asa ni tsururu yomogi).

This saying comes to us from the writings of our friend Xunzi / Xun Kuang.

Example sentence:

「自分も麻の中の蓬になろうと思って、いい友達を探そうと決心した」

(“Jibun mo asa no naka no yomogi ni narou to omotte, ii tomodachi wo sagasou to kesshin shita.”)

[“I felt that I should also try to better myself through association, so I decided to look for good friends.”]

Posted in Japanese, Kotowaza | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Fight fiercely, Harvard

(“Lehrer” means “teacher”)

力戦奮闘
riki.sen.fun.tou

Literally: power – battle – invigorated – fight

Alternately: Fighting as hard as you can. By extension, working as hard as you can. Strenuous effort.

RikiSenKaraTe

I’m mostly sure you can 力戦奮闘 even without an opponent, but this is pretty cute!

Posted in Japanese, Yojijukugo | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

When birds make you of a feather

Any reference to communism exist solely in the mind of the reader

朱に交われば赤くなる
(Shu ni majiwareba akaku naru;
Who associates with vermilion will turn red”)

Definition:

People change to match their environments, for better or for worse. You grow to be like the people you associate with, so be careful when choosing your friends and associates. Mostly used in a negative sense, counseling someone to avoid bad influences. Apparently from the stain left on the hands of people who handled dyes.

Breakdown:

We begin with the noun 朱 (shu), which describes the brilliant red made from cinnabar, or by extension any especially vivid red. Next is the directional or locational particle particle に (ni), in this case acting as “with,” followed by the verb 交わる (majiwaru), “to associate [with],” in hypothetical form. The following clause begins with the adjective 赤い (akai), “red,” in conjunctive form. This allows it to connect to the verb なる (naru), “to become,” in sentence-final form.

Notes:

This saying apparently comes from the writings of 3rd Century CE poet Fu Xuan, where it’s part of a longer saying that couples it with a parallel assertion that being close to an ink stick will turn things black.

People misremembering this saying may replace 交わる with 混ざる (mazaru, “to be blended [with]”), or 赤くなる with 赤になる or 朱色になる (aka ni naru or shuiro ni naru). All of these are considered errors.

Example sentence:

朱に交われば赤くなることを恐れて、庶民を避けて貴族としか関わらない芸術家達が闇に手を染める時代であった。

(Shu ni majiwareba akaku naru koto wo osorete, shomin wo sakete kizoku to shika kakawaranai geijutsukatachi ga yami ni te wo someru jidai de atta.)

[It was an era when the artists, fearing that touching pitch would defile them, avoided the common folk and only associated with the upper class – and were corrupted.]

Posted in Japanese, Kotowaza | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

A gathering of silver threads

The Little Mermaid II

百川帰海
hyaku.sen.ki.kai

Literally: hundred – river – return (home) – ocean

Alternately: Things that were scattered or disparate coming together, like how rivers and streams start here and there but all end up in the sea. By extension, a large group of people in accord with each other, especially in terms of feelings or opinion.

Notes: This saying comes to us from the Huainanzi (淮南子, Enanji or Wainanshi in Japanese), a mid-Han-dynasty essay collection.

HyakuSenChiimu

Maybe not a large enough crowd to really illustrate the phrase, but you get the idea.

Posted in Japanese, Yojijukugo | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

But humans turn to face our predators

苛政は虎よりも猛し
(Kasei wa tora yori mo takeshi;
A cruel government is more terrible than a tiger”)

Definition:

The harm done by bad governance is worse than that done by a ravenous tiger. People fear wild nature, but often it poses less of a threat to us than corrupt, broken, or misused human social structures such as tyrannical governments.

Breakdown:

We begin with a relatively rare noun, 苛政 (kasei), “despotism.” The particle は (wa) marks this as the topic of discussion. The comment on this topic begins with the noun 虎 (tora), “tiger,” marked by the particles より (yori), “more than” and も (mo), often “also” but in this case acting as an intensifier, and then the adjective 猛し (takeshi), “harsh,” “fierce,” “violent,” in sentence-final form.

Notes:

This saying comes from a story in the Book of Rites (礼記, Raiki in Japanese), a core Confucian text. Confucius is said to have come across a crying woman. When he asked her what was wrong, she told him that all of her remaining family had been killed by a tiger, one by one: her husband, her children, her father-in-law. When Confucius asked her why she hadn’t moved to a safer area, she replied that this was the only place where they had been free from crushing taxation.

What strikes me is that the message of the words of the saying are incredibly topical: a tiger can’t steal thousands of children from their parents and throw them in concentration camps in the desert in the summer, for example, or strip health care away from millions in order to help plutocrats fund their yachts and private jets. But the origin story is also topical: irrational people so violently averse to taxation that they would rather let their entire family die of something preventable than pay the government a penny more than the bare minimum possible.

Example sentence:

苛政は虎よりも猛しというから、この国からは出て行こう!」

(Kasei wa tora yori mo takeshi to iu kara, kono kuni kara wa dete ikou!!”)

[“They say that tyranny is more terrible than tigers, so let’s get out of this country!”]

Posted in Japanese, Kotowaza | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Shouldn’t grow on you

短慮軽率
tan.ryo.kei.sotsu

Literally: short – consider – light – proportion

Alternately: Deciding things without considering the consequences or results. Impulsive; unthinking. Rash.

Notes: This four-character compound comprises compound adjectival nouns 短慮, “imprudence,” “quick temper,” and 軽率, “hasty,” “rash.” The order of these elements may be reversed at times.

TanRyoDaDa

Presidential!

Posted in Japanese, Yojijukugo | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment