Where the money may be sticky

…but where it doesn’t stick

悪銭身に付かず
(Akusen mi ni tsukazu; “Ill-gotten money doesn’t stick with you”)

Definition:

Money acquired by means other than honest work is often spent quickly on trivial things. Easy money is easy come, easy go. People who don’t value the effort it takes to get money, tend to become spendthrift and wasteful. The origin is in an image of old Japanese pleasure quarters, where a customer who had some winnings from gambling would soon be tempted to spend it on this or that, but I find the saying just as applicable to the wasteful extravagances of anyone who didn’t have to work hard for the contents of their bank accounts.

Breakdown:

We begin with the noun 悪銭 (akusen), literally “bad coin.” This can refer to physically-damaged currency, but in this case it means “dishonest money” or “easy money” – i.e. money from gambling or theft, usually. Next we can imagine an elided particle, because what follows is a complete verb phrase: the noun 身 (mi), “body,” “oneself,” marked by the particle に (ni) as the location or destination of the verb 付く (tsuku), “to adhere,” “to be acquired.” This verb appears in negative sentence-final form, and we’re done.

Notes:

A variant saying replaces 悪銭 with 泡戦 (abuku zeni), literally “foam coin,” more precisely “easy money,” and replaces the final negative suffix ず with negative suffix ぬ (nu). A complementary saying also exists, asserting that money earned honesty does stick around.

This saying is attested from 1860, from a kabuki play titled 三人吉三廓発買 (Sannin Kichisa kuruwa no hatsugai), apparently known in English as “Three Kichisaburōs Go Shopping at the New Year in the Pleasure Quarters.”

Example sentence:

「クジ引きで五千円が当たって、まあいいか、と思ってすぐにコンビニでおやつとジュースを三千円分も買っちゃった。本当に悪銭身につかずね」

(“Kujibiki de gosen en ga atatte, maa ii ka, to omotte sugu ni konbini de oyatsu to juusu wo sanzen en bun mo kacchatta. Hontou ni akusen mi ni tsukazu ne.”)

[“When I won five thousand yen in the lotto I thought, Well, why not?, and immediately bought three thousand yen worth of snacks and drinks at the convenience store. Easy money really does burn a hole in your pocket. ”]

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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