The benefits of bold-face fine print

(I thought this was scheduled to pop automatically yesterday, but… it wasn’t, and I was remiss in failing to check. My apologies for the delay.)


Literally: gall bladder / courage – big – heart / mind – small

Alternately: Not being fearful when it comes to taking action, but also paying attention to the fine details. Both bold and careful; proactive and meticulous.

Notes: A variant replaces 小 with 細 (sai), “small (detail).”

This compound comes to us from the Old Book of Tang (『旧唐書』, in Japanese Kutoujo), a history form the “Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms” period about the Tang era.


From a live-action drama called 胆大心小頑張ります – Tandai shinshou ganbarimasubut I feel like the main character’s barber could have used a little less 胆大 and a little more 心小.

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Just avoid immovable objects

…and you’ll be fine. Right?

(Danjite okonaeba kishin mo kore wo saku;
“If you do things decisively, even demon-gods will get out of the way”)


If you take decisive action backed by strong determination, there is little that can stand in your way. Where there’s a will, there’s a way – and there’s an unstoppable force pushing you down the way, so anything in your way had better get out.


We begin with the adverb 断じて (danjite), “decidedly,” attached to and modifying the verb 行う (okonau), “to carry out (an action).” The verb is in perfective form and takes the conditional suffix ば (ba), “when.” The above dependent clause leads us to an independent clause beginning with 鬼神 (kishin), “demon god(s)” or “fierce god(s).” This noun is followed by particle も (mo), in this case “even.” Next comes the noun 之 (kore), “this,” marked by the particle を (wo) as the direct object of the verb 避く (saku), “to avoid,” in sentence-final form.


In modern orthography, kore is usually written in hiragana as これ, while “to avoid” is usually 避る (sakeru), but the forms shown here are considered correct for the kotowaza. Meanwhile, replacing 避く with homophone 裂く, “to tear,” is an error.

This saying comes to us from the 『史記』 (Shiki in Japanese; the Records of the Grand Historian). The story goes that after the death of the first Qin emperor, an official named Zhao Gao (趙高, Chou Kou in Japanese) orchestrated a series of plots and assassinations and is credited (or blamed) for playing a big part in the fall of the Qin dynasty. Due to this association, the saying originally had a negative connotation – the sense that strong-willed malice can’t be stopped or checked, a rather chilling thought given contemporary circumstances as I write this – but it has since become an exhortation to give things your all when you really want to do them.

Example sentence:


(“Furusato no hitobito no shiawase wo mamoru tame ni, shichou ni rikkouho shiteiru Taneda-san ga tousen suru mikomi wa shoujiki na tokoro takaku wa nai ga, danjite okonaeba kishin mo kore wo saku to shinjite saigo made ganbarou to ketsui shita sou da.”)

[“To tell the truth, the chances that Ms. Taneda, who entered the race for mayor in order to protect the happiness of the people of her home town, will actually be elected are not high. But it seems that she has decided to fight to the very end in the belief that nothing can stand in your way when act with sufficient determination.”]

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Melting pot, ethnic stew

Either way, we’re all in this vessel together


Literally: all – “sort of thing” – one – body

Alternately: Disparate things mixing together to form a harmonious or unified whole. A workable sum of parts. The ideal of American society.

Notes: The 渾 may be replaced with homophone 混, “mix.” The compound may also be followed by ~となる (to naru), “to become (a complete whole).” 渾然一体となる can also simply mean “to be joined together.”

This compound comes to us from the seventh chaper of the Huainanzi (『淮南子』), which we’ve seen before. Note also that things becoming 一体 is a recurring theme in yojijukugo.


Got to have every class of combat waifu in your strike team, see.

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The opposite of charmed

(Hikaremono no kouta; “The ballad of someone being pulled along”)


Putting on a brave face in the face of despair; refusing to admit defeat in a seemingly impossible situation; defiant confidence against overwhelming odds. Like someone condemned for a crime, singing on the way to the execution grounds (while seated on a horse that is being led along).


We begin with the verb 引く (hiku), “to pull” among other uses, in passive form. This attaches to and modifies the noun 者 (mono), “person.” This noun phrase is connected by the associative particle の (no) to the noun 小唄 (kouta), literally “small song.” The term by extension can also refer to a ditty, a ballad, singing to oneself, or even to humming.


A variant replaces 小唄 with 鼻歌 (hanauta), literally “nose-song” but in practical terms, humming.

Example sentence:


(“Kenri wo ubawarete mo, inochi made odokasarete mo, hikaremono no kouta no you ni nanige nasasou ni ooyake ni tsudzukete arawareru kanojo tachi wa baka na no ka, dare yori mo isamashii hito tachi na no ka, watashi ni wa wakarimasen.”)

[“Even with their rights being taken away, even with their very lives being threatened, these women continued appearing in public and acting as if nothing were out of the ordinary, like whistling to the gallows. I really don’t know whether they’re idiots, or braver than anybody and everybody else.”]

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But what do you do with half a hemp-tangle?

Throw water on it, maybe


Literally: pleasant – sword – disorder – hemp

Alternately: Skillfully (and quickly) resolving a complicated situation or solving a complicated problem.

Notes: 快刀 is a sword with a good cutting edge; 乱麻 is a tangle of hemp thread or yarn. The yojijukugo can also be expanded to the phrase 快刀、乱麻を断つ (Kaitou, ranma wo tatsu), where 断つ is “to cut (off).”

This compound comes from a story in the Book of Northern Qi (北斉書, in Japanese Hokusei sho), a Tang-era history by Li Baiyao. It’s said that the father of Gao Yang – later Emperor Wenxuan – gave him a tangled ball of yarn to test his intelligence. Instead of trying to work it out the hard way, Yang took the Gordian-knot solution by cutting the tangle apart with his sword.

Replacing either half of this phrase with any homophone, such as 怪刀 (not a common word; literally “strange sword”) or 乱魔 (similarly, “wild demon”), is considered an error.

See also synonym 一刀両断.


Not the “Ranma” I first thought of; this was the title of a pair of video games, later made into an OVA (Original Video Animation: a direct-to-video animated miniseries).

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And now you understand 90% of every samurai movie

(Bushi wa kuwanedo takayouji;
“Even a warrior who hasn’t eaten uses a toothpick”)


A destitute warrior who hasn’t eaten nonetheless acting like they have, in order to avoid revealing weakness to any potential enemies. By extension, putting on airs or a show of pride, or acting stoic in the face of hardship. Forced cheer.


We begin with the noun 武士 (various pronunciations, in this case bushi), “warrior,” marked as the topic of discussion by the particle は (wa). The comment on this topic begins with the verb 食う (kuu), “to eat.” This verb appears in imperfective form and takes the negative suffix ず (zu). This suffix itself appears in perfective form as ね (ne), allowing it to take the concessive suffix ど (do), “even (if).” Without particles, this verb phrase is followed by the noun 楊枝 (youji), “skewer” or “toothpick.” Prefixing this noun with adjective-turned-noun 高 (taka), “high,” implies that the toothpick use is leisurely, giving an air of self-assurance or of having just enjoyed a satisfying meal.


You get a bonus if you’re Mifune Toshiro.


This saying is the ふ entry in the Kyoto iroha karuta set, but is also attributed to the writings of Confucian sage Mencius (孟子, in Japanese Moushi).

Example sentence:


(“Aitsu no seishin wa na, bushi wa kuwanedo takayouji dakara, tatoe omae ga bentou wo wakete ageru to itte mo hitokuchi mo kuwan darou.”)

[“That guy, he’s got this samurai spirit that doesn’t want to admit any problems, so for example even if you offer him part of your bento, he won’t have a single bite.”]

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None are so lost as those who will not stop being lost

, Darryl


Literally: lost – person – non – ask

Alternately: “The (truly) lost are those who do not ask (the way).” An admonition to ask questions when there’s something you don’t understand. If you get lost – literally or figuratively – and don’t ask the way, you’re just going to go on being lost.

Notes: This phrase comes to us from the writings of Confucian philosopher Xunzi, aka Xun Kuang.


But until I knock to ask, how will I know where to knock to ask?

[Image by 川瀬巴水 (Hasui Kawase), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons]

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