Still better than a superspreader event


Literally: pond – alcohol – meat – forest

Alternately: A great and sumptuous meal. A dinner party with staggering amounts of food and drink. Enough drink to fill a pool and enough meat to decorate a forest. This phrase can often be used to imply a drunken and perhaps debauched excess of consumption, so be careful about using it to praise someone’s spread at dinner!

Notes: Apparently in China the same phrase means an extravagant lifestyle in general, rather than a single extravagant event. The phrase comes from a fabled event in the life of king Zhou of Shang,  (紂, Japanese Chou) who literally had a pool filled with alcohol and had (in some versions, dried) meat hung from trees to simulate the drooping boughs of a lush forest. It is said that his excesses led directly to his downfall.
(Link is to Youtube; a children’s cartoon of the story for about the first two minutes.)

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Keep your debrief brief

(Haigun no shou wa hei wo katarazu;
The defeated commander speaks not of war.”)


Someone who has failed at something has no authority to speak on the topic; a defeated general should not give their opinions on warfare. Often used specifically to mean that one shouldn’t be a sore loser, or go around making excuses or casting blame after a failure; just own it and carry on.


We begin with the noun 敗軍 (haigun, pronounced “hi, goon!”), “defeated army.” The associative particle の (no) shows that this noun is attached to and modifying the noun 将 (shou), “commander,” which in turn is shown by the particle は (wa) to be the topic of discussion.

The comment on this topic centers on the verb 語る (kataru), “to speak of,” “to narrate [a story],” in imperfective form and taking the negative suffix ず (zu) in conclusive form. The particle を (wo) marks as its direct object the noun 兵 (hei), “warfare,” “strategy.”


It’s worth paying attention to the nuance here; I think there’s value in dissecting one’s own mistakes and failures in order to extract lessons from them. There’s a line between analysis and excuse-making, though, and another between that and straight-up whining, and it’s better not to cross either of those.

Variants warn that a defeated general should 謀らず (hakarazu), “not lay plans,” or 以て勇を言うべからず (motte yuu wo iubekarazu), “(with that,) must not speak of courage.”

Although the character 兵 can mean “soldier” in some contexts, reading it as such in this case is an error.

This saying is yet another selection from our friend, the Records of the Grand Historian. (Japanese 『史記』 = Shiki).

Example sentence:


(“Yonrou no itoko ga nyuushi no hi no tenki nado ni tsuite yowane wo haki ni kita kedo, boku wa haigun no shou wa hei wo katarazu to itte, kiku no wo kyohi shita. Hontou ni uttoushii yatsu da.”)

[“My cousin, a four-year ronin, came to whine about how bad the weather was on the day of the entrance exam, but I refused to listen. I was all, ‘a general who lost shouldn’t talk about strategy.’ What a pain in the butt.”]

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I have seen tempests


Literally: comb – wind – wash – rain

Alternately: Wind-blasted and rain-drenched. With one’s hair blown about by wind and one’s body washed by rain; by extension, someone who is out struggling in story weather because of work that needs to be done. By further extension, any hardship or toil.

Notes: This compound is attributed to a passage in our friend the Zhuangzi (Japanese 『荘子』 = Souji or Soushi) about a king who worked tirelessly, regardless of the weather, to improve his kingdom with road-building and river-works.

Elemental... like Avatar?

The title of a song by singer ChouCho, apparently used as the closing song for a widely-panned… revenge-romantic-dramedy anime?

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The wascal of small minds

(Kabu wo mamorite usagi wo matsu; “Watching a stump, awaiting a rabbit”)


Being unable to advance because one is fruitlessly invested in old habits or customs, or in a strategy that was successful once but no longer applies. A foolish consistency; overblown and harmful conservatism. Waiting for a rabbit to ram into a tree-stump so you can collect a free meal.


This complete sentence ends with the verb 待つ (matsu) in conclusive form. The direct object of this verb, marked by the particle を (wo), is the noun 兎 (usagi), “rabbit.” This clause is parallel in structure (and in time) with the preceding one. For the introductory clause, the verb is 守る (mamoru), “to protect,” “to watch over,” this time in conjunctive form to facilitate the conjunction, with another を marking the noun 株 (kabu), a cut stump or stalk, as its direct object.


株 may be read as kuize, although this is less common. The entire phrase can be condensed down to the two-character compound 守株, shushu, or to a yojijukugo as 守株待兎 (shushu taito). And one variant replaces the sentence-final verb with 覗う (ukagau), “to await [an opportunity].”

This comes from a story in our friend the Han Fei Zi (Japanese 『韓非子』 = Kanpishi), an eponymous philosophical text, in which a farmer sees a rabbit collide with a tree stump and collapse dead, which allows him to pick it up and get some free rabbit meat. Instead of returning to work, though, he stays by the stump and continues to watch it in the hopes that he will be able to go on collecting rabbits. Compare and contrast 柳の下にいつも泥鰌は居らぬ.

Example sentence:


(“Osanai kodomo ga mina kabu wo mamorite usagi wo matsu you na kangaekata wo suru to iu koto ni tai suru shouko wa, nando mo aki mo sezu onaji joudan wo onaji hito ni kikasete waratte moraou to suru genshou ni aru darou.”)

[“I believe that proof that young children have a way of thinking akin to the meaningless preservation of old customs lies in the phenomenon where they will tirelessly tell the same joke to the same person, over and over again, in order to get a laugh.”]

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Dotted Is and red E


Literally: use – mind – circumference – arrive

Alternately: Thorough preparations, without any oversights. Being incredibly careful; doing everything possible to get ready for something. A good way to be, if you can manage.

Notes: This is a compound of compounds. 用意 refers to “preparation” (and often given as a command before “start” for various sporting competitions), while 周到 refers to “meticulosity,” which, yes, is a real word.

Replacing 到 with homophone 倒, “fall down,” is an error, of course.

This strikes me as just about the most useless possible version of cargo pants you could make.

An actual ad for hip-support cargo pants that puns on ¾ of the characters. The you here is “hips/waist.”

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“It is useless to meet revenge with revenge; it will heal nothing.”

(J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King)

(Achira wo tatereba kochira ga tatazu;
If one raises that side, this side will not rise.”)


It’s difficult, almost impossible, to get all sides of something equally accepting and happy about the result; to protect the honor and dignity of both sides of a dispute. For one side of a seesaw to rise, the other must fall. “You can’t please everyone.” As Jim Carrey said: “Unfortunately, there are situations in life… where there must be a winner and a loser.”


We begin with the pronoun 彼方 (achira), “over there,” marked by the particle を (wo) as the direct object of the transitive verb 立てる (tateru), “to stand [something up],” “to raise,” in prenominal form and taking the potential suffix る (ru), which in turn appears in imperfective form as れ (re) and takes the hypothetical suffix ば (ba).

This is followed by another clause in parallel, beginning with pronoun 此方 (kochira), “over here.” This time the pronoun is marked as the subject of a verb by particle が (ga), and the verb in question is again 立つ, this time in imperfective form and taking the negative suffix ず (zu) in conclusive form.


It is acceptable to write achira and kochira in hiragana (あちら, こちら). In many cases, the early を will be elided. And in many cases we’ll see the final negative rendered as prenominal ぬ rather than ず, presumably because the sentence continues – a longer variant continues the theme by declaring that if both sides rise, the center must fail (双方立てれば身が立たぬ, souhou tatereba mi ga tatanu).

This is probably not new news for any regular readers of the blog, but I want to stress here that yes, this is a comment on contemporary American politics. And I want to make it crystal clear that I feel an enormous sense of relief that a setback has finally been delivered to the forces of fascism. But I want to temper this with a reminder that just because the previous president getting fired is objectively good for the entire world, doesn’t actually mean that everybody is happy about it: forces remain in play that can and will cause problems even after the Oval Office is decontaminated, and we need as many people working together to face those problems as possible.

The line between relief-powered joy, and triumphal mockery, can also decide how many victims of a system that goes out of its way to instill hate and fear can be saved from that system. It would be good for everyone in the long term if those victims, who were tricked into voting for their own destruction at the hands of uncaring robber barons, can be shown enough sympathy, empathy, kindness, and understanding that their pride doesn’t prevent them from turning to the side of good.

A huge part of why Biden won is that he knows this: The greatest victory is not in destroying your enemies, but in turning them into your allies. And this starts with empathy.

Example sentence:


(Achira tatereba kochira ga tatanu kenka ni hasamaretara komaru nda. Ore ni kiku na.”)

[“I don’t want to get caught in a fight where one side or the other has to lose face, so don’t ask me.”]

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Ta’anit umikveh?


Literally: purification – admonition / precept – wash – bathe

Alternately: Ritual purification in advance of an important holiday, ceremony, or time of prayer; in particular, fasting and bathing.

Notes: This is a compound of compounds. 斎戒 refers to a practice of fasting or shutting oneself away at home (to avoid inauspicious activities); 沐浴 refers to washing oneself (body and hair). In some cases the order may be reversed (沐浴斎戒), although this is less common.

I really wish I knew the context for this discussion

From a manga adaptation of the “Hoichi the Earless” story by Mizuki Shigeru, most well-known for the yokai-centric manga GeGeGe no Kitaro. The yokai ritual bath is different from what… most humans would use.

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Darkened minds are worse than darkened eyes

(Shin no yami yori muyami ga kowai;
“Thoughtlessness is more frightening than pitch darkness”)


Being caught in utter darkness is scary, because you can’t be sure where everything is, or even what actually is and isn’t there at all. But more frightening by far is someone who acts irrationally or rashly, who lacks common sense and discernment. They can’t be counted on to do what is needed or right, and they may end up causing terrible harm whether they intended to or not. You just don’t know what they might do… only that they won’t do it with any degree of care or planning.


This time we begin at the end, with adjective 怖い (kowai), “frightening,” in conclusive form. Before that, the particle が (ga) marks this adjective as a predicate, and as its subject, the noun 無闇 (muyami), “recklessness,” “excess,” “indiscriminateness.” The particle より (yori) marks muyami as “more [scary] than” something else; in this case 闇 (yami), “darkness,” which the associative particle の (no) allows to be modified by the noun 真 (shin), “truth,” “reality” – note that in this case, the phrase 真の is taking on an adjectival role.


無闇 is an interesting word of unclear origins; most of what I can find suggests that it’s some sort of ateji – that is, kanji assigned, purely for their phonetic properties, to a previously-existing word, and that the pre-existing word may be the result of a slurring or phonetic shift acting on a longer phrase of similar meaning.

This kotowaza unfortunately does not show up in many of my usual sources, and none of the sources I can find (without an in-person visit to a library, at least, which is off the table right now) even suggest a possible source, although one blog does at least list the physical dictionary they got their definition from.

Example sentence:


(Shin no yami yori muyami ga kowai, to shinjiteiru kara hanchou to shite no ichiban no shigoto wa ikkansei wo mamoru koto da to kimo ni meijita.”)

[“I believe in the idea that blind action is more dangerous than mere darkness, and so I keep it firmly in mind that my primary job as team leader is to maintain consistency.”]

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“Repetition does not transform a lie into a truth”



Literally: again – three – again – four

Alternately: Repeatedly; over and over; time and time again. It seems that this phrase is often used while chewing someone out, to emphasize how many times they were given a warning or piece of advice (which they then ignored, to unfortunate effect).

Notes: Supposedly the human brain, while also capable of some pretty advanced counting and other mathematical tricks, also tends to weight triples with indefinite extension: something that happens once is noteworthy, twice is a coincidence, and three times means it’s the rule. This compound plays on that by combining the power of three with the power of escalation and the power of repetition to really drive home the point. Note that 再三 can also be used on its own with the same meaning.

Apparently this simple phrase comes to us from the Qing-era Chinese novel, Hongloumeng (Japanese 『紅楼夢』 = Kouroumu), a.k.a. Dream of the Red Chamber or The Story of the Stone.


The title of a song by a band called… SideChest?!

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A leaf on the wind; watch how it soars

(Ichiyou ochite tenka no aki wo shiru;
“A leaf falls, and one knows autumn”)


Sensing something big coming on from a relatively minor hint. Understanding the future from the very first signs. Like realizing that fall is on its way after seeing the fall of a single leaf. In some, but not all, cases, this may specifically refer to presentiments of some sort of downfall.


We begin with number-noun 一葉 (ichiyou), “one leaf,” particle elided but acting as the subject of the verb 落ちる (ochiru), “to fall.” This appears in conjunctive form and prefaces the action of the following clause. The particle を (wo) marks the noun 秋 (aki), “autumn,” as the object of this clause. Associative particle の (no) allows this noun to be modified by the preceding noun 天下 (tenka), which, if you recall, refers to the (mortal/material) world as a whole. And the verb acting on aki is 知る (shiru), “to know,” which appears in conclusive form.


This saying comes to us from our friend, the classical Chinese essay anthology Huainanzi (Japanese 『淮南子』 = Enanji or Wainanshi), from the chapter on “discourse on mountains” (説山訓).

In keeping with this history, there are many variations on the basic phrase. Some specify that the leaf in question belongs to the 青桐 (aogiri, the Chinese Parasol tree), apparently known to start dropping its leaves relatively early; others condense the saying in various ways, for example, by eliminating the 天下 part or even the final verb.

Example sentence:


(Kare wa ichiyou ochite tenka no aki wo shiru koto wo mezashite sasai na genshou ya dekigoto ni yatara to binkan ni natta ga, kisoteki na chishiki no fusoku no tame, saisan-saishi shippai de owatta.)

[“Aiming for the ability to foresee big events from their first signs, he became excessively sensitive to even the most insignificant events and phenomena. But lacking any sort of foundational knowledge, his efforts ended in failure time and time and time again.”]

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