When the bones are bad

…the rest is needed

(Honeori zon no kutabire mouke;
“Bone-breaking loss and a profit of weariness”)


Working hard without any reward. Bone-breaking labor with no fruits but exhaustion. A wasted effort or thankless task.


It turns out that this whole kotowaza is a noun phrase build of subsidiary noun phrases, most of them derived from verbs. We begin at the end with the verb 儲ける (moukeru), “to earn,” “to profit,” in conjunctive form and acting as a noun. This is preceded and modified by the verb 草臥れる (kutabireru), “to be exhausted,” “to wear out,” in conjunctive form and acting as a noun. Associative particle の (no) connects this noun phrase to the noun 損 (son), “loss,” “harm”; this is preceded and modified by a compound noun comprising the noun 骨 (hone, rhymes with Monet), “bone,” and the verb 折る (oru), “to fold,” “to break,” in conjunctive form and, you guessed it, acting as a noun. Backing up a bit, we see that one of the effects of being in a compound is that son is voiced as zon.


Note the (ironically twisted) rhetorical contrast between 損 and 儲け (loss and profit, or expenditure and return).

The kanji for 草臥れる are apparently derived from the ancient Chinese text Classic of Poetry (詩経, Japanese Shikyou), which at some point describes a tired person lying down (臥) on the grass (草). The Japanese phonetic root is from the same source as 朽ちる (kuchiru), “to rot (away).”

This phrase is the ほ entry of the Edo iroha karuta set. The latter half (草臥れ儲け) may also appear on its own as shorthand for the entire phrase.

Example sentence:


(“Kodomo no toki, gakkou de no benkyou wa honeori zon no kutabire mouke da to omotteta kedo, toshokan de sugoshita heijitsu no yuugata wa gokuraku mitai na jikan deshita.”)

[“When I was a kid, I thought that studying at school was a colossal waste of effort, but the weekday evenings I spent at the library were like paradise.”]

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.
This entry was posted in Japanese, Kotowaza and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s