Seven is just the beginning!


Literally: child – child – grandchild – grandchild

Alternately: One’s children and grandchildren; one’s descendants; posterity; until the end of history.

Notes: Each repeated character may be written with the repetition mark 々; the second 孫 (in either form) may be voiced as zon.

This phrase is an emphatic doubling of 子孫 (shison), “descendant.” It comes to us from the Book of Documents (Shujing), a truly ancient collection of rhetoric that we’ve met before.

Shi shi shi, nan no oto?

I guess Zoro’s a bit of a punster

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A cup of water onto the sand.

In the Dry Land.

(Tsume de hirotte mi de kobosu;
“Scraped up with the fingernails; spilled with a basket”)


Some resource that was gathered slowly and with great effort over an extended period of time is used up in an instant. Often this suggests a sense of disappointment, or that the resource has been squandered. By extension, this phrase may describe a situation of meager income and huge expenses. The image is of grain painstakingly picked up by hand but then accidentally spilled again.


We begin with the noun 爪 (tsume), “fingernail,” marked by the particle で (de) as the means by which the verb 拾う (hirou), “to gather,” “to pick up,” is performed. This verb appears in conjunctive form, and points us to a following, parallel verb phrase. This begins with the noun 箕 (mi), “winnowing basket” – that is, a shallow woven tray for shaking grain to separate it from chaff. This is also marked as the means of an action by the particle で (de), and the action in this case is 零す (kobosu), “to spill,” which appears in conclusive form.


While some versions of this phrase write kobosu in kana as こぼす, every kanji version that I’ve found uses the character 零, despite this being a nonstandard reading for a character which is often read as rei and used to mean “zero.” The final verb may also be replaced with あける (akeru), “to empty [something].” Beyond this, there’s practically a genre of such sayings with work done by a small tool such as a needle or an ear-pick, and then undone by a much larger tool, such as a hoe or rake.

Example sentence:


(“Ikinokotta koto wa mochiron ureshii kedo, nagai saigetsu wo tsuiyashite takuwaete, zenshinzenrei wo sosoide majoyou no boushi ni amikonda maryoku ga hiryuu no shuugeki de a tto iu ma ni hai ni sarete shimatte, tsume de hirotte mi de koboshita you na uttoushii kimochi wa zutto kienai.”)

[“Of course I’m glad that I survived! But the magic power that I had spent long years building up, and that I poured body and soul into the work of weaving into a witch’s hat, was reduced to ash in the blink of an eye during the dragon’s attack. It’s like everything I’d scraped together by hand was dashed to the floor, and this heavy feeling won’t go away.”]

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I can see clearly now; I’m way up high

I can see all obstacles in my way


Literally: one – see / desire – thousand – ri

Alternately: A broad, expansive vista. Being able to see out to a great distance with a single glance; having a bird’s-eye view of things. By extension, a broad expanse of space.

Notes: This phrase has a number of synonyms, including 一望千 (ichi bou sen kei), where 頃 is a unit of land area, and 一望無限 (ichi bou mu gen), where 無限 is “limitless.”


A common phenomenon in such a mountainous country. Source.

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Square Eggs that Look Round

“‘My dear old fish,’ said Mr Wonka, ‘go and boil your head!’” – he probably didn’t know about this saying.

(Marui tamago mo kiriyou de shikaku;
“Even a round egg can be square, depending on how you cut it.”)


A given thing will go smoothly – or not – depending on your choice of words and methods. Be careful, because the same essential content can create different impressions, or even cause offense, depending on the presentation. The devil’s in the details. Despite the image being the presentation of a cooked egg – in a way that gives it “horns,” despite the inoffensive roundness of its original shape – this saying mostly seems to refer to watching one’s tone while speaking.


We begin with the adjective 丸い (marui), “round,” preceding and modifying the noun 卵 (tamago), “egg.” This is marked by the emphatic particle も (mo) as an extreme example of a given rule; “even.” The rule begins with the verb 切る (kiru), “to cut,” in prenominal form and acting as a noun; it is compounded with the noun よう (you, pronounced as a long “yo”), “form,” “style.” The compound is marked by the particle で (de) as the means by which something happens, but this is simply followed by the noun 四角 (shikaku), literally number-noun “four corners,” i.e. a rectangle or square. Any other structures or verbs are elided.


This phrase is considered synonymous with, and sometimes followed by, the phrase 物も言いようで角が立つ (mono mo iiyou de kado ga tatsu), “a thing can cause offense depending on how it is said.”

Example sentence:


(“Gakkou no kyoushi mo sou kamoshirenai kedo, chuutaa wa toku ni, marui tamago mo kiriyou de shikaku de, kuraianto no machigai wo naosu toki wa, kankei wo sokonenai you ni kotobadzukai ni ki wo tsukenai to ikemasen.”)

[“It’s probably the same for school teachers but especially for tutors, because presentation matters as much as content, when correcting a client’s mistakes, you need to pay careful attention to how you phrase things so as not to damage your relationship with them.”]

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We all agree with that man, Joe

And his Bizarre Adventures


Literally: full – place – one – do

Alternately: Universal accordance. Unanimity. There is not a single dissenting voice in the entire place / group / assembly.

Notes: This is a relatively simple compound of compounds. 満場 is “everyone in the place”; 一致 is “of the same opinion.” (See also 言行一致 and 一致団結.)


“And thus, we all agreed on shadow butterflies.”

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What if it’s made of hithlain?

(Hitosuji nawa de wa ikanai;
“A single rope won’t do”)


A situation that can’t be handled using the ordinary means, or everyday methods. Especially refers to an enemy or opponent who can’t be overcome with one’s usual techniques or strategies.


We begin three characters in with the noun 縄 (nawa), “rope.” This is modified by number-noun 一筋 (hitosuji), “one strand,” and the resulting noun phrase is followed by the particle で (de), which marks it as the means by which an action is carried out. This entire structure is marked as the topic of discussion by the particle は (wa), and the comment on this topic is the verb 行く (iku), “to go,” in negative conclusive form as 行かない (ikanai). Literally this would be “doesn’t go,” but more figuratively it takes on the meaning “no good,” “useless.”


Variants on this phrase may do without the は, or use the archaic negative verb form 行かぬ (ikanu).

This phrase is attributed to a mid-Edo-era joururi play titled 『関取千両幟』 (Sekitori senryou nobori). That said, although it’s not clear from sources currently at hand, the image of ropes seems to be significantly older and related to the tradition of 注連縄 (shimenawa), which are used in Shinto practice to mark and ritually purify a space.

Example sentence:


(“Kono boodogeemu wa masutaa shita tsumori datta kedo, daigaku no ryou de atta senpai wa hitosuji nawa de wa ikanai tegowai aite dakara motto fukaku sono sakusen ga benkyou shitaku natte kita.”)

[“I thought I’d mastered this board game, but an upperclassman I met at the college dorm is a really strong opponent; I can’t win with my regular play style. It makes me want to study the game’s strategies even more deeply.”]

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A lance where your chin should be


Literally: pillow – “spear”* – wait – sunrise

Alternately: Always ready to give battle. Never dropping your guard or slacking off from necessary preparations. “Sleeping with a weapon as your pillow, awaiting the break of dawn.”

Notes: This phrase comes to us from the Book of Jin (Japanese 『晋書』 = Shinjo), a Tang-era history that looked back at the Jin Dynasty over two hundred years prior. (Note that this is a different work from the History of Jin, which covers a different dynasty that rose and fell a thousand years later!) Apparently an official named Liu Kun (劉琨, Japanese Ryuu Kon) learned that his friend had been promoted ahead of him, and wrote a letter complaining about this and extolling his own virtue as a warrior so utterly prepared for action that he bedded down on top of his weapons.

As is often the case with Chinese-origin phrases, this may be expanded into a full sentence, 戈を枕にして旦を待つ (Hoko wo makura ni shite ashita wo matsu). Contrast 枕を高くして寝る.

* As a rule, 戈 is translated through “localization” using a Western weapon name: lance; spear; pike, halberd. The actual original design is something closer to a long-hafted pick: the pointy bit is mounted and braced on the haft so that it projects out perpendicularly, although later designs seem to have added a spear-like vertical spike as well. Wiktionary has a pretty good chart showing how the character evolved from a pure pictogram depicting this shape into its current form.

Ge, ge, ge ge ge no ge!

The site I got this from is in Chinese, but I think it shows pretty clearly how the Chinese ge was different from a “spear.”

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By plop or by poit

(Ten kara futta ka chi kara waita ka;
“Fallen from the sky, or sprung from the earth”)


A completely out-of-the-blue occurrence, or something or someone appearing suddenly as if out of nowhere. The image is of something being unexpectedly present as if it had just dropped out of the sky or popped up out of the ground.


We begin with the noun 天 (ten), “the sky,” followed by directional particle から (kara). The nature of what happens “from” is described by the verb 降る (furu), “to fall,” often used for rain. This verb appears in past tense, conclusive form, and is followed by interrogative particle か (ka). Next we get a parallel phrase beginning with the noun 地 (chi), “ground,” “earth,” similarly marked by the particle から. And again we have a verb, 湧く (waku), “to come forth,” generally referring to an outflow or welling-up of water. This verb also appears in past tense, conclusive form, and again is followed by the interrogative particle. In cases like this the paired kas serve a more rhetorical function: they don’t so much ask “A? Or B?” as they declare “whether A or B.”


It seems that this phrase has been translated into English in the past, somewhat dramatically, using phrases like “vision” or “apparition” to emphasize its mysterious aspect. Contrast the physicality of the water imagery with, for example, the more explicitly supernatural 神出鬼没.

Example sentence:


(“Kenkyuu de komaru tabi ni, ikidzumatta no mitometa shunkan, ashioto mo tatezu ni ano toshoin ga ten kara futta ka chi kara waita ka, soba ni arawarete tetsudatte kureru.”)

[“Whenever I’m having trouble with my research, at exactly the moment when I admit to myself that I’m stuck, that librarian appears at my side as if out of thin air, without even the sound of a footstep, and helps me out.”]

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Make sure you get your ball back afterwards


Literally: one – sphere – enter / insert – soul

Alternately: This phrase from the world of baseball refers to putting your full energy and focus into each action; specifically, putting everything you can into each throw of the ball.

Notes: This is a compound of compounds. 一球 is a simple number-noun phrase, of course, but 入魂 is more interesting; pronounced jukon (or jikkon or jukkon), it means “intimacy,” “familiarity.” Even as a term for “putting a soul into something,” it can refer to an act that ensouls a physical object, cf. 画竜点睛 and 仏作って魂入れず.

Closing credits over banner

Cycling anime Yowamushi Pedal plays on this by replacing kyuu with rhyming 蹴 (shuu), “kick.”

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May it be a light to you in dark places

…when all other lights go out – JRRT, FotR

(Chouja no mantou yori hinja no ittou;
“A pauper’s single light is greater than a rich man’s ten thousand.”)


There is greater honor in a poor person sincerely giving what they can, than a wealthy person’s extravagant show of philanthropy. A single lamp that actually means something to the person who paid to have it lit is worth more than ten thousand lamps whose motivation is just conspicuous consumption.


We begin with the noun 長者 (chouja), literally “long person,” by extension a “leader” or simply a “wealthy person.” The associative particle の (no) marks this as the possessor of number-noun 万灯 (mantou), “ten-thousand lights. A little further on we find a parallel phrase that begins with 貧者 (hinja), “poor person,” marked by another の (no) as the possessor of number-noun 一灯 (ittou), “one light.” The two phrases are joined by the particle より (yori), which marks the latter as “rather than” or “more than” the former.


This Buddhist phrase comes from a story in a text called the 『阿闍世王受決経』 (Ajase ou juketsu kyou), something like the “King Ajatashatru Receive-Decision Sutra.” The story goes that Ajatashatru (a conqueror of multiple smaller states) decided to become a follower of the Buddha, and invited him to visit. When the Buddha was returning home in the evening, the king caused ten thousand lights to be lit along his road. And old woman saw this and gathered up her savings to add a single light to the row – and even after the king’s lights had burned out, the woman’s miraculously burned throughout the night.

The term 長者 has a particular connection to the leader of a “post town” (宿場, shukuba), Edo-era waystations on major routes connecting to the capital city that were established to provide food, shelter, and other functions for travelers, especially government officials. However, in this kotowaza we should simply read it as “an especially rich person.”

This phrase may be contracted to simply 貧者の一灯, either as shorthand for the whole, or simply to express “a person of little means who is giving everything they can.” One variant specifies the poor person as 貧女 (hinjo or hinnyo, “a poor woman”); another reduces the rich person’s count to just 千灯 (sentou, “one thousand lights”).

Example sentence:


(“Kotoshi no tanjoubi de moratta purezento no naka de, ichiban kandou shita no wa imouto ga kureyon de kaita e datta. Ichinichijuu ganbatte kaite, watashi no suki na mono mo takusan egaite kureta kara, donna ni heta na e de mo hinja no ittou na no de taisetsu ni suru tsumori da.”)

[“Out of all the birthday presents I got this year, the one that moved me the most was a crayon drawing from my little sister. She worked hard on it all day, and she drew a lot of the things I like; it may not be much, but it’s everything she had to give, so I’m going to treasure it.”]

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