If the cattle are horny, you shouldn’t care if they’re straight

角を矯めて牛を殺す
(Tsuno wo tamete ushi wo korosu; “Straightening the horns, killing the cow”)

Definition:

A situation where trying to fix a small problem ruins the whole thing. The cure being worse than the disease. Hammering and pulling on a cow’s curved horns in an attempt to straighten them is only going to be bad for the beast itself.

Breakdown:

This saying comprises conjoined verb phrases. The first begins with noun 角 (tsuno), “horn(s),” marked by particle を (wo) as the object of verb 矯める (tameru), “to straighten,” “to correct,” which appears in conjunctive form. The second phrase uses を to take as its object the noun 牛 (ushi), “cow,” and the verb being done to the cow is 殺す (korosu), “to kill,” in conclusive form.

Notes:

Replacing 矯める with homophone 溜める, “to amass,” is of course an error. Replacing it with 直す (naosu, “to fix”), however, is perfectly fine.

This saying has a surprising number of synonymous phrases. My favorite are the ones declaring that trying to repair or polish a Buddha statue, or a Jizou statue, will break off its nose.

Example sentence:

角を矯めて牛を殺したように、ソフトにちょっとだけ手を加えてみたら、途中でパソコンが不意にブルースクリーンになってしまった」

(Tsuno wo tamete ushi wo koroshita you ni, sofuto ni chotto dake te wo kuwaete mitara, tochuu de pasokon ga fui ni buruu sukuriin ni natte shimatta.”)

[“As if I’d killed the cow by straightening its horns, when I tried tweaking the software just a bit, all of a sudden my computer went BSOD.”]

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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