Soldiers are for war, not for peaceful protests

(Another saying that features 焉. Next week we’ll have something different, I promise.)

鶏を割くに焉んぞ牛刀を用いん
(Niwatori wo saku ni izukunzo gyuutou wo mochiin;
“Why use a cow-cleaver to cut up a chicken?”)

Definition:

There’s no need to use powerful tools, or people of great ability, on small tasks. Don’t use a huge cleaver meant for cows when preparing chicken; don’t send people of great ability and experience to do trivial tasks; don’t waste energy with overkill.

Breakdown:

We begin with the noun 鶏 (niwatori), “chicken,” marked by the particle を (wo) as the direct object of the verb 割く (saku), “to cut up.” This seems to be in prenominal form and acting as a noun (or a nominalizer such as koto is elided), because what follows is the particle に (ni) acting as an indirect object marker on the noun phrase “cutting up a chicken” as a whole.

Moving into the next clause, we begin with interjection (or adverb) 焉んぞ (izukunzo), “how~?” “why~?”, often used to set up a rhetorical question. Next comes the noun 牛刀 (gyuutou), literally “cow sword,” i.e. a large butcher’s knife used to divide up a cow’s parts after slaughter. This is also marked by the direct-object particle を (wo), and then we have the verb 用いる (mochiiru), “to use.”

I’m not 100% certain on the grammar at this point, but my guess is that we have 用いる in imperfective form (as 用い) with particle む, which can express supposition or soften a statement by making it indirect. While the character む is generally read as mu, in this sort of usage it is often pronounced, simply, n, and in prenominal or conclusive form it may be written ん as well to reflect this. We can probably assume that, at the end of the sentence, it’s in conclusive form.

Notes:

This comes from a story in the Analects in which Yanzi, one of Confucius’ disciples, is said to have been set to administer a town, where he studiously applied his master’s teachings. Confucius visited and joked with the words that became this saying, implying that the teachings being applied – or the talents of Yanzi himself – were wasted on such a small town.

This saying, or the idea it expresses, can take a variety of forms, including four-character compound 牛刀割鶏 (gyuutou kakkei) and the more specifically Japanese 大根を正宗で切る (daikon wo Masamune de kiru).

Example sentence:

「数学の宿題に取り組む前に、鶏を割くに焉んぞ牛刀を用いんと思って、一人でチャレンジしてみたけど、やっぱり数学が得意な兄ちゃんに教えてもらわないとちょっと無理だった…」

(“Suugaku no shukudai ni torikumu mae ni, niwatori wo saku ni izukunzo gyuutou wo mochiin to omotte, hitori de charenji shite mita kedo, yappari suugaku ga tokui na niichan ni oshiete morawanai to chotto muri datta….”)

[“Before taking on my math homework I thought great talent would be wasted on small problems, so I tried tackling it on my own, but you’re really good at math and I guess I can’t do it without your help after all…. ” (to the speaker’s older brother)]

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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