As surprising as a plink to the coo

鳩が豆鉄砲を食ったよう
(Hato ga mamedeppou wo kutta you;
“Like a pigeon got shot by a pea-shooter”)

Definition:

Dazed; amazed; puzzled; left staring in shock by something sudden or completely unexpected. A bit like a deer in headlights, except more like a pigeon that has been bopped by a relatively harmless but still unignorable low-energy projectile.

Breakdown:

We begin with the noun 鳩 (hato), “pigeon,” “dove,” marked as the subject of a clause by the particle が (ga). Next comes compound noun 豆鉄砲 (mamedeppou), literally “bean iron cannon” – in other words, a pea-shooter. This in turn is marked by the particle を (wo) as the object of the verb 食う (kuu), literally “to eat,” or in this case the more figurative “to receive” (with a negative connotation), and finally the noun よう (you, rhymes with “go”), “appearance,” “similar to,” etc. The final-position noun means that this saying is actually a noun phrase rather than a complete sentence.

Notes:

The phrase can be rearranged into 豆鉄砲を食った鳩のよう (mamedeppou wo kutta hato no you), “like a pigeon that got shot by a pea-shooter.” It can also be contracted to just 鳩に豆鉄砲 (hato ni mamedeppou), “a pea-shooter to a pigeon.” But in every case, make sure you don’t lose the 豆. The pigeon is extremely startled, but it’s not dead.

Viewers of certain genres of anime will be familiar with くらう (kurau), which has a similar meaning to 食う’s usage in this saying. A number of my sources stress that no, the pigeon is not eating the pea-shooter, nor its ammunition (at least not yet). Rather, it “ate” a hit, and is still recovering from the shock.

Example sentence:

プレゼントを開けて豆鉄砲を食った鳩のように目を丸くして無言になった男の子は、ガッカリしているのか、それとも喜びのあまり声がでないのか、僕にはしばらく分からなかった。

(Purezento wo akete mamedeppou wo kutta hato no you ni me wo maruku shite mugon ni natta otoko no ko wa, gakkari shiteiru no ka, sore tomo yorokobi no amari koe ga denai no ka, boku ni wa shibaraku wakaranakatta.)

[After opening the present, the boy was left wordless and wide-eyed as a stunned pigeon. Whether he was disappointed, or unable to speak in overwhelming joy, was not clear until later.]

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 )

Google photo

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

Twitter picture

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

Facebook photo

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

Connecting to %s