The curse of the wart-cure??

(Miiratori ga miira ni naru; “The mummy-hunter becomes a mummy”)


A person, sent to get someone and bring them back, themselves ends up staying away. A person who goes to convince someone of something ends up being convinced that the other side is correct. An ironic reversal. “Going for wool and coming home shorn.”


We begin with the second word, 取り. This is the verb 取る (toru), “to take,” in stem form and acting as a noun. It’s modified by compounding it with the noun ミイラ (miira), “mummy,” to make “mummy-hunter.” (Although see below for an alternate reading.) The whole is marked as the subject of the sentence by the particle (ga). The latter half of the sentence comprises the verb なる (naru), “to become,” with the particle (ni) indicating that the repeated noun ミイラ is undergoing the transition.


The Japanese word ミイラ comes to us, through Portuguese, from “myrrh” (Hebrew מור (mor); Arabicمر (mur)), for its use in embalming practices. It may also be written with the ateji 木乃伊, although katakana are far more commonly used in contemporary Japanese.

The most-supported explanation for ミイラ取り is of people who disinter old, mummified remains to be ground into powder for their supposed medicinal effect! They end up mummified themselves, though, becoming exactly that which they had sought to retrieve and destroy.

However, one of my sources claims that ミイラ取り isn’t a mummy-hunter, but rather a person sent to retrieve myrrh for someone else’s mummification process who ends up dying in the desert and becoming a mummy through natural action of the sun and dry air. I don’t buy this explanation, though. For starters, it has the feel of a folk etymology invented by people who think of dynastic Egypt as a bunch of idiots out wandering around in the sand rather than a sophisticated commercial empire built around a flood plain. Second, this reading would require that ミイラ carry two different meanings within the same sentence: first “myrrh,” then “mummy.”

Note that there is a (now-outlawed) Buddhist tradition of monks realizing that their time has come and arranging to die while meditating in such a way that their bodies will naturally mummify; the resulting corpses may be retrieved, decorated, and put on display to demonstrate the power of Buddhism in warding off corruption and decay. These are generally not called ミイラ, but rather 即身仏 (sokushinbutsu) – “body-as-is Buddhas.”

Example sentence:


(“Honya-san de tachiyomi shiteru musuko wo yobi ni ittara, omoshirosou na ansorojii ga me ni tomatte, ware ni kaettara sanjuppun mo tatteta. Miiratori ga miira ni natta na, ha ha ha.”)

[“When I went to get my son, who was in the bookstore reading, an interesting-looking anthology caught my eye, and when I came to my senses over half an hour had passed. I’d gone out for wool and come home shorn.”]

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Better than “Six days a sacrifice”

And on the morning of the third day, he said, “Ugh.”


Literally: three – day – priest – master

Alternately: Giving up on something after only trying it out for a little while. Alternately, someone who has trouble sticking with their projects over the long term. Literally, a “three-day priest.”

Notes: The “three days” part is supposed to represent a short span of time rather than a specific measure. More interesting, though, is the term bouzu: as the individual character meanings imply, it originally referred to the head of a group of (Buddhist) priests. Over time, it came to refer to such priests in general in a somewhat intimate or mocking way. Eventually, this was further applied to boys, for whom a (monk-like) very close haircut had become common after the importation of clippers and the banning of traditional topknots during the Meiji era.

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Toddler Linguistic Development: Sentences!

The kid has been building up his vocabulary in both English and Japanese, of course, and at some point started stringing words together. At first, if I recall, it was a couple of stock phrases like “all done,” then rudimentary noun-verb combinations like “Papa sit” or “Mama eat.” For several weeks, he’s been doing three-word sentences like “Woodchuck 草 eat.” (草 is kusa, ‘grass.’) Note the personal-pidgin mix of English and Japanese with in a sentence, and the SOV word order taken from Japanese. He’s also produced sentences with complex nouns, like “豚ビデオ見る” (Buta bideo miru, ‘[I want to] watch [a] pig video’).

This evening he produced what, to my knowledge, was his first four-word sentence… with three different parts of speech! First, a little background.

Our apartment is close to some wooded areas, so we see a decent amount of insect life in the area: butterflies and moths, grasshoppers and katydids, assassin bugs, scorpionflies, cicadas, and a couple different species of praying mantises. Recently I managed to hand-catch a bunch and bring them back to our apartment (to mixed reviews from my wife): a grasshopper, a cicada, and one each of large and small mantises.

The kid really enjoyed having them around. He kept on having me get them out and make them “sit” – i.e. put them on the floor. He warmed up a lot from his initial encounter with one of the mantises (it jumped on his leg suddenly while we were transporting him in the stroller; he freaked out a bit) to the point where he would carefully offer his hand for them to walk onto. He talked about them a lot, and I tried to use the mantises to stress the difference between large (大きい, ookii) and small (小っちゃい, chicchai, in a sort of informal/childish lisp).

I took them to his daycare and spent an hour and a half showing and explaining them to all the kids in three classrooms. The cicada pretty much died during the process, unfortunately: while none of them sustained actual damage, it got less and less responsive and was kaput by the evening. Perhaps it was just old. The rest survived long enough to be returned to nature this afternoon, and while I’m not sure all of them will make it, I did assuage the kid’s upset at saying goodbye by telling him that the mantises were going to go eat and maybe we’d see them again later.

Not too long after that, we saw another smallish mantis and he wanted to take it home, but this one had other ideas. It ran away rather energetically and eventually flew out of reach upwards.

At bedtime, the kid suddenly told his mother, “小っちゃいカマキリ虫eat!” (Chicchai kamakiri mushi eat, ‘The small mantis [went to] eat insects!’) We were impressed! He’s picked up a few colors words, but here was a functional sentence with an adjective, subject, object, and verb!

We were happy, of course. And now I’m looking forward to hearing what he thinks about as he gets more and more of a handle on describing the world around him!

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An uncracked egg never omelettilates

(Makanu tane wa haenu; “Unsown seeds don’t sprout”)


Nothing happens without a reason for it to happen. Nothing comes of nothing. Plants don’t grow without seeds. Alternately, there is no such thing as a free lunch. Nothing comes without effort. If you want seeds to grow into plants and produce flowers or fruit, you must plant them.


We begin with the verb 蒔く (maku), “to sow seeds.” It appears in imperfective form, with negative suffix (zu) in prenominal form so that the verb can attach to and modify the noun (tane), “seed.” This noun is marked by the particle (wa) as the topic of discussion, with an implicit contrast that sets it apart from seeds that have been sown. Finally, the main part of the sentence consists of a single verb, 生える (haeru), “to grow,” “to sprout,” again with a negative suffix.

In classical-grammar terms the final verb is properly 生ふ (hau) and the form it would take here would be 生ひず (haizu), with the suffix in sentence-final form. However, today’s phrase is of no greater antiquity than the Edo era. While the suffixes feel old-fashioned from a contemporary perspective, there is about twice as much time between the phrase’s origin and the Tale of Genji as between its origin and this blog post.


This is the ma entry in the Kyoto iroha karuta set.

This saying is attributed to Matsue Shigeyori’s 1645 haiku collection 毛吹草 (Kefukigusa).

A synonymous saying asserts that 打たぬ鐘は鳴らぬ (Utanu kane wa naranu), “An un-struck bell doesn’t ring.”

Example sentence:


(“Ken-chan, geemu wa mou yamete eigo no benkyou shinasai. Makanu tane wa haenu to iu deshou. Benkyou shinai to, Eigo, jouzu ni naranai wa yo.”)

[“Ken, stop playing video games and study your English already. They say seeds that aren’t planted can’t grow, right? If you don’t study it, you’ll never get good.”]

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A random generator for political comments

On one website that I visit once in a blue moon or two, there’s a silly little internet game you can play where you type a string of characters (it’s supposed to be a name, but what’s stopping you from putting almost anything you want in?) into a text box and the algorithm behind it produces a graphic of what’s in the person’s head. One of the names I typed in on my most recent visit was “Donald J. Trump,” and this is what it returned.


It’s almost too perfect. For those who can’t read Japanese, here’s what the characters mean:

  • 嘘: “lie,” “falsehood”
  • 遊: “play,” but also “run wild,” “go to waste”
  • 幻: “illusion,” “phantasm”
  • 秘: “secret,” or by extension, something sexual

So this little random kanji generator tells us that the interior of Donald J. Trump’s mind is a morass of illusions, wasteful self-entertainment, and secrets, wrapped up in a shell of lies. It’s so on-the-nose that I couldn’t resist sharing.

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‘Tis but a flesh wound. Okay, twenty flesh wounds.


Literally: full – person – start/injury – injury

Alternately: One’s entire body is covered in wounds. (The specific image is having been cut many times by bladed weapons.) Hurt through and through. By extension, being in a psychic state of pain due to fierce criticism or social attack.

Notes: Some people apparently replace 満身 with homophone 慢心, “conceited pride,” which – although evocative in its own right – is considered an error.


“I used to be an adventurer like you….” (Man of Wounds from the Wikimedia commons)

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Like a room without books

Unless it’s a room where books aren’t appropriate. Look, talk to Cicero.

(Hotoke tsukutte tamashii irezu; “Making a Buddha; leaving out the soul”)


Technically finishing something, but leaving out a vital element, even the most important part. Something that seems fine, but is missing a subtle yet important aspect, reducing its use or value. Like creating a Buddha statue but failing to imbue it with the spiritual force befitting a Buddha. Alternately, like creating a Buddha statue without really putting your heart and soul into the work.


A pithy, particle-free saying comprising two verb phrases, each accompanied by a direct object. First we have (hotoke), “the Buddha,” acted upon by 作る (tsukuru), “to make,” in conjunctive form so that it links to the second phrase. The second is (tamashii), “soul” or “spirit,” acted upon by 入れる (ireru), “to put something into something,” in imperfective form with negative suffix (zu) in sentence-final form.


Adding the eyes to a figure is a common metaphor for bringing it to completion or perfection – the same idea can be found with pictures of dragons and Daruma dolls – and some versions of this saying replace with (manako), “eye.” (The source that discusses this also adds the direct-object marker , wo.) Other sources replace with , with essentially no change in pronunciation or meaning.

Example sentence:


(“Eiga wo miteiru aida wa, omoshiroi to omotta keredo, ima to natte wa nanka fuman desu ne. Hotoke tsukutte tamashii irezu, tte wake ka na.”)

[“While watching the movie I thought it was entertaining, but now I feel kind of dissatisfied. Maybe they left out something that would have made it really click.”]

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