(Awateru kojiki wa morai ga sukunai;
“A beggar in a hurry receives little alms”)
Haste makes waste; slow and steady wins the race. Rushing about or fighting to get in the door first, especially in pursuit of profit, tends to lead to errors and result in loss or harm. The original nuance includes the warning that an appearance of uncontrolled greed fosters negative feelings in others and makes them less willing to help, or less open-handed when they do, but over time it seems to have become a general admonition against unwarranted haste.
For example, if you actually care about the health of the economy, don’t just “reopen” it willy-nilly in the face of a pandemic. A careful plan, carefully carried out, is better for long-term public safety and profit alike.
We begin with the verb 慌てる (awateru), “to hurry,” “to panic,” in prenominal form and modifying the noun 乞食 (kojiki), “beggar.” Particle は (wa) marks this noun phrase as the topic of discussion. The comment on this topic begins with the verb 貰う (morau), in conjunctive form and acting as a noun. This noun is marked as the subject of its clause by the particle が (ga), and its predicate is the adjective 少ない (sukunai), “few,” in conclusive form.
Compare 急がば回れ and 急いては事を仕損じる; contrast 善は急げ. There also seem to be a number of sayings about mice or crabs being in such a fluster that they don’t make it back to their burrows in time.
For beginners: keep in mind that the ない in this case is not a negative suffix; instead, this is one of a small group of adjectives that simply happen to have a na before the i ending, such as 危ない (abunai, “dangerous”) or 汚い (kitanai, “dirty”). Note that historically, sukunai has also been written (on rare occasion) as 寡い, in which the na is clearly subsumed into the character’s reading rather than acting as part of a suffix.
(“Aa, Takashi nara, aniki ga shucchou kara kaette kite, nimotsu wo orosu ya ina ya, shitsukoku omiyage wo nedatta kara, aniki ga okotte omiyage wo hitotsu shika watasanakatta nda. Dakara shonbori shiteru nda yo. Awateru kojiki wa morai ga sukunai to iu kotoba wo wasurete shimatta nda ne.”)
[“Ah, if you’re talking about Takashi – our big brother got back from his trip, and Takashi was alread begging him for a treat when he’d barely had time to put his suitcase down. So our brother got mad and only gave him one, so now he’s all mopey. I guess he forgot that ‘a beggar in a hurry receives little alms.’”]
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