Bear little; bee large

小さく生んで大きく育てる
(Chiisaku unde ookiku sodateru; “Birth small; raise large”)

Definition:

It’s wise to bear a small child and then raise it large. A small baby tends to mean an easier birth, and a child who grows well tends to be stronger and healthier, so these are good states to aim for. By analogy, it’s best for a project or business to start small and grow steadily instead of trying to start out big and do everything all at once.

Breakdown:

We begin with adjective 小さい (chiisai), “small,” in conjunctive form. This allows it to act as an adverb, modifying the verb that follows it. This is 生む (umu), “to give birth.” This verb phrase is followed by another, so umu also appears in conjunctive form so they can be linked into a single temporal sequence.

The second verb phrase is constructed similarly; it begins with adjective 大きい (ookii), “large,” in conjunctive form, followed by the verb 育てる (sodateru), “to raise,” in conclusive form.

Notes:

It’s also acceptable to turn the final verb (and thus the entire phrase) into an imperative: ~育て (sodatero).

☆ The kotowaza dictionaries didn’t make it clear how one was supposed to plan or arrange the baby’s size at birth, especially in an age before ultrasound and other modern medical technologies.

Example sentence:

「小説家になりたいなら、まずはシーンや寸描から始めようよ。いきなりシリーズなんて大作じゃなくて。野心満々でいいけど、小さく生んで大きく育てろっていうでしょ。」

(“Shousetsuka ni naritai nara, mazu wa shiin ya sunbyou kara hajimeyou yo. Ikinari shiriizu nante taisaku ja nakute. Yashinmanman de ii kedo, chiisaku unde ookiku sodatero tte iu desho.”)

[“If you want to be an author, first start from scenes or vignettes and so on. Don’t jump straight into something big like a book series. It’s good to be ambitious, but they say you should start small and grow big.”]

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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2 Responses to Bear little; bee large

  1. locksleyu says:

    “We begin with adjective 小さい (chiisai), “small,” in conjunctive form. This allows it to act as an adverb, modifying the verb that follows it. This is 生む (umu), “to give birth.” This verb phrase is followed by another, so umu also appears in conjunctive form so they can be linked into a single temporal sequence.”

    I think 小さくて (chiisakute) is the traditional conjunctive (often called “te”) form. Do you know for sure that “小さく” (chiisaku) is also called the conjunctive form?

    • Confanity says:

      Yes, actually, or at least it is in classical grammar. Back in the day, the conjunctive (連用形) form of an adjective was simply its く・しく form, and the て that we all know and love today was itself the conjunctive form of helper particle つ. You’ll see conjunctive forms of adjectives without て in other “old-fashioned” contexts; e.g. 天高馬肥ゆる秋.

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