But what does it all MEAN?

(Rongo yomi no rongo shirazu; “A reader of Confucius; doesn’t know Confucius”)


Use this when someone technically knows the words of a field of knowledge but doesn’t understand the meaning of the words and is unable to act based on their surface-level textual knowledge. Being unable to translate theory into appropriate practical action.


We’ll begin this one with the particle (no) in the middle. This associative particle indicates that the whole phrase is simply two nouns which are related to each other. Even though each half of the saying technically ends in a verb, the verbs are in conjunctive form (連用形), which allows them to function as nouns. Alternately, the can be read as equivalent to modern subject-marker particle (ga), in which case only the first verb is read as a noun, while the latter is read as taking sentence-final form.

In either case, both halves begin with the proper noun 論語, the title of the Analects of Confucius. In the first case, this noun is connected to the verb 読む (yomu), “to read,” in conjunctive form. In the second, it is connected to the verb 知る (shiru), “to know,” in imperfective form with the negative suffix (zu) in either conjunctive or sentence-final form.


The 論語 is one of the “Four Books and Five Classics” forming the core of Confucian philosophy. Knowledge of these texts eventually became one of the criteria for holding governmental positions in China and then in the Japanese imperial court. Japanese aristocrats were expected to be able to read Chinese, but this saying mocks those who couldn’t engage the texts on a level deeper than oral reading.

This is the entry of the Kyoto iroha karuta set. The saying is attributed to poetic collection 毛吹草 (Kefukigusa).

An alternate, more oxymoronic version replaces 知らず with 読まず (yomazu), “doesn’t read.”

Example sentence:


(“Ano seijiya-tachi no setogiwa seisaku wa kenpou ni han suru furumai ni chikai. Habatsu zentai, rongo yomi no rongo shirazu da.”)

[“The brinkmanship those politicians use is all but violating the Constitution. The whole faction is all theory, no application.”]

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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