Call it the “Holmes Hook.”

鎌を掛ける
(Kama wo kakeru; “to catch on a sickle”)

Definition:

Talking casually to someone in a way that leads them to give you information you wanted, such as their true feelings about a matter, without needing to ask them for it directly. Asking leading questions, or tricking someone into revealing something.

Breakdown:

This brief phrase comprises only a noun, a verb, and the particle (wo) that marks the noun as the object of the verb. The noun is (kama), a one-handed sickle. The verb is 掛ける (kakeru). It essentially means “to hang (something on something else),” but by extension (or by confusion with various homophones) it has come to hold a wide array of other meanings. In this case, it seems to be used with the intended image someone hooking someone else with the sickle to pull them closer.

Notes:

As has happened before, this is an idiom rather than a true “saying,” but also as before, I have included it because it pleases me somehow.

The origins of this phrase are unclear, with multiple conflicting and unconfirmed theories offered. Oddly, several of these seem to depend on both leaps of logic and on some object other than a sickle being referred to through dialect or linguistic drift as a かま. Complicating matters further, there seem to be a number of dialects which use the same idiom for a variety of more or less related meanings. One source notes wryly that it’s probably best to just take the simple image of a victim being hooked and pulled in as the origin, and leading questions as the meaning, in most cases.

This idiom is attested as far back as the early 1700s.

Example sentence:

ペラペラ喋っている真っ最中に、何度も何度も弁護士に鎌を掛けられたことに証人が気づいたようで、突然黙って口を利かなくなってしまった。

(“Pera pera shabetteiru massanaka ni, nandomo nandomo bengoshi ni kama wo kakerareta koto ni shounin ga kidzuita you de, totsuzen damatte kuchi wo kikanaku natte shimatta.”)

[“Right in the middle of their outpouring, the witness seemed to realize that time and time again they had had information drawn out of them by the lawyer’s leading questions. They suddenly went silent and refused to speak any further.”]

About Confanity

I love the written word more than anything else I've had the chance to work with. I'm back in the States from Japan for grad school, but still studying Japanese with the hope of becoming a translator -- or writer, or even teacher -- as long as it's something language-related.
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