AND I WOULD WALK TWENTY FOUR POINT FOUR MORE, JUST TO BE THE MAN WHO WALKED A HUNDRED RI TO FALL DOWN AT YOUR DOOOOOOOOOR
(Hyakuri wo iku mono wa kujuuri wo nakaba to su;
“To one traveling a hundred ri, ninety is half the distance.”)
An admonition: Finishing things well is hard. The end of a task is often the most difficult and error-prone part, so those close to the end should be extra careful and work extra hard instead of just trying to coast through. Consider ninety-percent completion as if it were only halfway, and keep on plugging.
We begin with number-noun compound 百里 (hyakuri), “hundred ri,” with a ri being a unit of distance just shy of 4km (a little less than 2.5 miles). The particle を (wo) marks this distance as the object of the verb 行く (iku), “to go,” and the verb appears in prenominal form, allowing it to attach to and modify the noun 者 (mono), “person,” which in turn is marked as the topic of discussion by the particle は (wa).
The comment on this topic begins with number-noun compound 九十里 (kujuuri), “ninety ri,” which is again marked with as a direct object by を (wo). This time, however, the verb is す (su), “to do,” which modern usage knows better as する (suru); the verb caps off the sentence with its sentence-final form. However, the verb is preceded by the noun 半ば (nakaba), “half,” to which is affixed the particle と (to, sounds like “toe”), in its function of attributing words, thoughts, or feelings to someone.
The set phrase とす(る) has a number of possible renditions, but in this case is probably something close to “to think of ~ as ~.”
As with many such cases, the distance 百里 should be taken as “a long way” or “a large project,” rather than a literal and exact measurement of distance.
This saying comes to us from Qin (秦) section of the the Strategies of the Warring States (戦国策, in Japanese Sengokusaku), a historical text discussing – of course – the Warring States period of Chinese history.
(“Ato chotto dake dakara to omotte yasunda usagi wa kame ni maketa deshou? ‘Hyakuri wo iku mono wa kujuuri wo nakaba to su’ yo!”)
[“The rabbit lost to the turtle because it thought it could rest because there was only a little way to go, right? You should treat ‘almost finished’ like ‘halfway there’!”]