By their fruits you will know them

By their refrigerated, long-distance-shipped fruits?

悪事千里を走る
(Akuji senri wo hashiru; “Bad deeds run a thousand leagues”)

Definition:

When you do bad things, the rumors spread rapidly throughout society. News of evildoing soon reaches a distance of a thousand ri. There’s an implicit contrast with news of good deeds, which spreads much less far and less quickly, but in either case the lesson is the same: watch your actions carefully lest you gain a reputation as a villain.

Breakdown:

We begin with compound noun 悪事 (akuji), literally “bad thing(s).” Any particle is elided, although one could make a case for topic-marker は (wa) or subject-marker が (ga) here. Instead, we move to number-noun 千里 (senri), “one thousand ri.” And this distance is marked by the particle を (wo) as the object of the verb 走る (hashiru), “to run,” appearing here in sentence-final form.

Notes:

This saying is derived from a 10th Century CE Chinese text known as the Beimeng Suoyan (北夢瑣言, in Japanese Hokumu sagen).

Some versions of this saying use 行く (iku or, more commonly, yuku), “to go,” in place of 走る. In the original usage, the akuji phrase is preceded by one about how – in Japanese rendition – 好事門を出でず (kouji mon wo idezu): good deeds don’t even make it out the gate.

Apparently some people interpret this saying as saying that bad deeds are copied far and wide rather than known. While such usage would be no less topical now, as I write this post, it’s still considered an error.

Example sentence:

「よせよ、ツイッターの発明の前ですら悪事千里を走っていたんだ。今なんてなおさらだよ。そんな胡散臭い計画、参加したくないって言っただろ」

(“Yose yo, Tsuittaa no hatsumei no mae de sura akuji senri wo hashitte itanda. Ima nante nao sara da yo. Sonna usan kusai keikaku, sanka shitakunaitte itta daro.”)

[“Cut it out! Even before Twitter was invented, ‘bad deeds could run a thousand leagues.’ All the more so nowadays. I already said I didn’t want to be involved in such a fishy scheme.”]

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All the difference in the world

(And yet it was a close race. We should be ashamed.)

雲泥万里
un.dei.ban.ri

Literally: cloud – mud – ten thousand – ri (a unit of distance, about 2.4 miles or 3.9km)

Alternately: Two things are incomparable. A vast difference. Like comparing apples and anaphylactic shock. A difference like that between the clouds of heaven and the mud of earth, except stretched to over twenty-four thousand miles.

Notes: There’s a cute little phrase, 雲泥の差 (undei no sa), literally a “cloud-mud difference.” It’s so little, though, that I hesitate to introduce it on this site as a kotowaza. There does exist a yojijukugo version that uses 之 (a kanji that long ago served the same function as the particle の does now), but that felt kind of like cheating. Fortunately, the banri version also exists, expressing the same concept in stronger terms… and allowing me to introduce all three phrases for the price of one. 😉

The term 雲泥 is attested from around 900 CE, when it was used in a poem by legendary scholar Sugawara no Michizane. The four-character compound 雲泥万里 followed about a century later, in the poetry anthology 和漢朗詠集 (Wakan roueishuu).

UnDeiNoGuys.jpg

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They just schlep around

毒にも薬にもならない
(Doku ni mo kusuri ni mo naranai; “Neither poison nor medicine”)

Definition:

Something – or someone – that doesn’t matter. Something neither harmful nor beneficial; it doesn’t matter whether it’s there or not. Something that’s just kind of whatever – but note that when used in reference to a person, the tone is faintly nasty.

Breakdown:

This phrase is built around three major components: the noun 毒 (doku), “poison,” the noun 薬 (kusuri), “medicine,” and the verb なる (naru), “to become” or by extension “to be,” appearing in sentence-final negative form. Each of the nouns is followed by the particle に (ni), which ties it to the verb (similar to the “into” in “change into”), and then the particle も (mo), “also.” In this case, the doubled も…も followed by a negative ending means that the best rendition is probably “neither… nor.”

Notes:

Some versions of this phrase may use an older form of the negative ending: なら (naranu).

This kotowaza comes from Ejima Kiseki (江島其磧)’s 1710 ukiyozoushi novel 『けいせい伝受紙子』 (Keisei Denju Gamiko).

Example sentence:

「あ、健太くん?ついてくるけど気にしなくていいんだよ。役に立たないけど邪魔もしない、毒にも薬にもならない奴だ」

(“A, Kenta-kun? Tsuite kuru kedo ki ni shinakute ii nda yo. Yaku ni tatanai kedo jama mo shinai, doku ni mo kusuri ni mo naranai yatsu da.”)

[“Oh, Kenta? He’ll follow us around, but don’t let it bug you. He doesn’t do any good but he doesn’t get in the way either; he’s just kind of there.”]

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Lobbyists have been providing the former

Who intends to provide the latter?

邪知暴虐
ja.chi.bou.gyaku

Literally: wicked – know – violence – oppress

Alternately: Using knowledge and violence to harm and oppress. Jachi is knowledge or cleverness turned to evil purposes; bougyaku is committing atrocities or violent acts.

Notes: The character 知 may be replaced with 智 without any change in meaning or pronunciation. That said, this particular compound seems to be relatively rare and may have been coined by Osamu Dazai in 1940 in his short story 「走れメロス」 (Hashire Merosu, “Run, Melos!”).

JaChiChoko

Image from a discussion, I kid you not, of how to use one kind of chocolate to troll fans of the other kind.

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Too mad right now to come up with a witty title

I literally searched for kotowaza about betrayal

獅子身中の虫
(Shishi shinchuu no mushi; “A bug in a lion”)

Definition:

Someone ostensibly a member of an organization who nonetheless causes it harm. Someone who rewards kindness with enmity. Like a parasite living within a lion and protected by the lion’s strength, yet eating out the lion from within until it dies. Or like a certain political party within a nation, protected by that nation’s strength, yet gutting its government and taking life-saving services away from its people in order to make a handful of plutocrats richer. Treachery from someone who was supposed to be on your side. Ugly, hypocritical betrayal.

Breakdown:

We begin with the noun 獅子 (shishi), “lion,” followed by the noun 身中 (shinchuu), “within the body.” This is connected by the associative particle の (no) to the noun 虫 (mushi), “bug,” in this case referring to parasitic vermin.

Notes:

It’s possible to use the first four characters of this phrase as a stand-alone yojijukugo. A longer version of the saying gives the mushi an action, 獅子を食らう (shishi wo kurau), “eats the lion.”

Pronouncing 身中 as shinjuu or rendering it as 心中 (“inner thoughts” or “double suicide”) would be considered an error.

Today’s kotowaza comes to us from the Brahmajala Sutra (梵網経, Bonmoukyou) of Mahayana Buddhism.

Example sentence:

「この獅子身中の虫等を明日の朝すぐ払い除けても、もう遅い、遅すぎる。来年が待ち遠しい!」

(“Kono shishi shinchuu no mushira wo ashita no asa sugu harai nozokete mo, mou osoi, ososugiru. Rainen ga machidooshii!”)

[“Even if we drive out these traitorous parasites first thing in the morning it will be late, way too late. I can’t wait for next year!”]

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Like a tax code, perhaps

“Beware of he who would deny you access to information, for in his heart he dreams himself your master.” – Commissioner Pravin Lal, “U.N. Declaration of Rights,” Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri

複雑怪奇
fuku.zatsu.kai.ki

Literally: multiple – miscellaneous – mystery – strange

Alternately: Comprising varied entangled elements, so that the reasons for things are unclear. Complicated and (therefore) mysterious.

Notes: Apparently the first usage of this compound is attributed to Showa-era writer and scholar Michio Takeyama

FukuZatsuKaiRo

But is it worse than Boston?

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In which 0 = 7

And (n ≥ 1) = 48

無くて七癖
(Nakute nanakuse; “None, seven quirks”)

Definition:

Even someone who appears completely normal has their quirks, flaws, or questionable habits. Nobody is truly ordinary or above criticism. Everybody has their own faults.

Breakdown:

This compact idiom depends on elision. It begins with the adjective 無い (nai), “not,” in conjunctive form, followed by the number-noun 七癖 (nana-kuse), “seven habits.” (The implication is that the “habits” would be considered odd or bad, although examples such as verbal tics also fall into this category.)

Grammatically, this phrase simply doesn’t work as it stands; it should be read not literally but as shorthand for something along the lines of “(Even if it appears that somebody has) none, (they actually have) seven (hidden) quirks.”

Notes:

It’s said that the reason “seven” was chosen was simple alliteration: the nas in nana match up with the na in nai. Accordingly, while reading 七 as shichi is not strictly an error, it should probably be avoided.

Some versions of this expressions follow with あって四十八癖 (atte shijuuhakkuse), e.g. “Someone who has visible quirks then will have forty-eight of them.” – This number chosen due to 48 traditionally indicating a comprehensive set, as in the 48 basic techniques of sumo.

Example sentence:

無くて七癖で、全くもって一般人だと思った兄でも、クシャミのあと、グアーとか変な声を出す癖があるのに最近気が付いたんだ」

(Nakute nanakuse de, mattaku motte ippanjin da to omotta ani de mo, kushami no ato, ‘Guaa’ to ka hen na koe wo dasu kuse ga aru no ni saikin ki ga tsuita nda.”)

[“It’s said that everybody has their quirks – recently I noticed that even my older brother, who I’d thought was perfectly ordinary, has this habit of making weird noises like ‘Guh’ after sneezing.”]

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