Don’t work for the man, man

Rarely truer than now

すまじきものは宮仕え
(Sumajiki mono wa miya-dzukae;
“The thing one mustn’t do is serve at court”)

Definition:

If possible, it’s best not to let yourself be used by other people. It’s best to be your own boss instead of serving at the beck and call of others. Originally this phrase referred to “government” service in the imperial household, but nowadays it can also be used to extol the freedoms of self-employment over working for a company.

Breakdown:

We begin with the verb す (su, kanji 為 although this saying seems to use mostly kana), “to do,” in sentence-final form, which allows it to take the negative-probability or negative-obligation suffix まじ (maji), which in turn appears in prenominal form (as majiki), i.e. “shouldn’t.” The following noun is もの (mono), probably “thing.” The particle は (wa) marks all of the above as the topic, and what follows is the comment: noun 宮 (miya), “imperial residence,” coupled with verb 仕ふ (tsukau), “to serve.” Oddly, 仕へ (仕え in modern orthography) would be either the imperfective or the conjunctive form. I’m not sure which it is (or if it’s something else, although it does seem to be acting as a noun) or why it ended up like that. But in any case 宮仕え is a set phrase referring to service in the imperial household.

Notes:

A variant replaces the opening noun phrase with さすまいもの (sasumai mono), but trying to use すさまじきもの (susamajiki mono) is an error. Similarly, replacing 仕え with 遣い (tsukai), “errand(-runner),” “~user” is an error.

Example sentence:

「自分のレストランを経営しているといろいろ苦労があるけど、サラリーマンの頃に比べたら人生のバランスはよく取れていると思う。すまじきものは宮仕えだな」

(“Jibun no resutoran wo keiei shiteiru to iroiro kurou ga aru kedo, sarariiman no koro ni kurabetara jinsei no baransu wa yoku toreteiru to omou. Sumajiki mono wa miya-dzukae da na.”)

[“A lot of things are hard when you’re running your own restaurant, but I feel like my life balance is better than when I was a company man. I guess ‘he is not free who serves others.’”]

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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