Elbow grease begins at home

Be nice to your neighbor, and you’ll attract better neighbors?

(Mazu Kai yori hajimeyo; “First, start with Guo Wei”)


When starting a large, ambitious undertaking, it’s best to begin with what’s close at hand. By extension, it can also mean that the person who talks about getting something done should be the one to start doing it; “Practice what you preach.”


We begin, appropriately enough, with the adverb 先ず (mazu), “first of all.” Next comes the proper noun 隗 (Kai), short for the name 郭隗 (Guo Wei). This is followed by the directional particle より (yori), in this case “from.” And finally we have the verb 始める (hajimeru), “to start [something],” in imperative form.


In the Kingdom of Yan, during the Warring States period of Chinese history, King Zhao asked Guo Wei how to gather clever men to serve his country. Guo Wei modestly suggested that Zhou begin by treating him well, reasoning that if even he, a relatively ordinary guy, could receive perqs and benefits, then the truly wise and clever would come of their own accord in hopes of receiving at least that level of hospitality themselves.

Note that the above story comes from a text known as the Strategies of the Warring States (『戦国策』, in Japanese Sengokusaku) and the anecdotes it contains should be taken as apocryphal rather than factual historical records.

This saying can also be shortened to 隗より始めよ or expanded to 賢を招くには隗より始めよ (ken wo maneku ni wa ~), “In order to invite the wise, ~.” Replacing 隗 with homophone 魁 is of course considered an error.

Example sentence:


(“Hontou ni bideo geemu wo tsukuritai nara, sassa to puroguramingu wo hajimetara ii ja nai ka. Mazu Kai yori hajimeyo, gurafikku dezainaa wa ato de sagashite mo ii nda shi.”)

[“If you really want to make a video game, shouldn’t you hurry up and start programming? Start with what’s at hand; you can look for a graphic designer later.”]

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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