Yes elephant plus no elephant

Equals EVERYTHING

有象無象
u.zou.mu.zou

Literally: exist – shape – nothing – shape

Alternately: All things; a Buddhist phrase combining “things with physical forms and things without physical forms” to denote the entirety of existence. By extension, “A large number of unexceptional people; rabble; the unwashed masses”; a term used to denigrate mob behavior or “the common folk.”

Notes: Kanji-literate readers may notice that 象 is the character for “elephant”; it just so happens that it can also mean “shape,” which is how it’s being used here.

Reading 有 as yuu or 象 as shou (both possible in other contexts) is considered an error in this compound. Similarly, replacing 象 with homophone 像, “image,” is an error.

It feels weird given the Buddhist connections, but my sources trace this phrase to a late-18th-century sharebon called 通言総籬 (Tsuugen soumagaki).

UZouWaldo

But where are we?

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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