They just schlep around

毒にも薬にもならない
(Doku ni mo kusuri ni mo naranai; “Neither poison nor medicine”)

Definition:

Something – or someone – that doesn’t matter. Something neither harmful nor beneficial; it doesn’t matter whether it’s there or not. Something that’s just kind of whatever – but note that when used in reference to a person, the tone is faintly nasty.

Breakdown:

This phrase is built around three major components: the noun 毒 (doku), “poison,” the noun 薬 (kusuri), “medicine,” and the verb なる (naru), “to become” or by extension “to be,” appearing in sentence-final negative form. Each of the nouns is followed by the particle に (ni), which ties it to the verb (similar to the “into” in “change into”), and then the particle も (mo), “also.” In this case, the doubled も…も followed by a negative ending means that the best rendition is probably “neither… nor.”

Notes:

Some versions of this phrase may use an older form of the negative ending: なら (naranu).

This kotowaza comes from Ejima Kiseki (江島其磧)’s 1710 ukiyozoushi novel 『けいせい伝受紙子』 (Keisei Denju Gamiko).

Example sentence:

「あ、健太くん?ついてくるけど気にしなくていいんだよ。役に立たないけど邪魔もしない、毒にも薬にもならない奴だ」

(“A, Kenta-kun? Tsuite kuru kedo ki ni shinakute ii nda yo. Yaku ni tatanai kedo jama mo shinai, doku ni mo kusuri ni mo naranai yatsu da.”)

[“Oh, Kenta? He’ll follow us around, but don’t let it bug you. He doesn’t do any good but he doesn’t get in the way either; he’s just kind of there.”]

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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