Chopped short by the writer’s block

文は遣りたし書く手は持たず
(Fumi wa yaritashi kakute wa motazu;
“Wanting to send a letter, but lacking the hand to write it”)

Definition:

This phrase expresses a desire to write a letter to someone (especially a family member, close friend, or lover), accompanied by writer’s block arising from a perceived inability to express one’s thoughts adequately in writing. The pain and worry of feeling unable to correspond effectively. May also include the embarrassment-driven inability to ask for someone to write on your behalf.

Breakdown:

We begin with the noun 文 (fumi), “writing,” “letter” (as in snail-mail), with the topic-marker particle は (wa). This particle also overrides the を that might otherwise mark 文 as the direct object of the verb 遣る (yaru), “to do,” “to send,” etc. This appears in conjunctive form and attaches to the adjective たし, which expresses a desire – the ancestor of the modern ~たい verb suffix. This appears in conclusive form and effectively breaks the saying up into two parallel, but not grammatically entwined phrases.

The second half again begins with a noun phrase followed by topic-marker は, so that the two はs also form an explicit contrast. The second noun phrase begins with the verb 書く (kaku), “to write,” in prenominal form, attached to and modifying the noun 手 (te), “hand.” This time the verb that takes this noun phrase, “writing-hand,” as its object is 持つ (motsu), “to have,” in imperfective form and taking the negative suffix ず (zu) in conclusive form. For both halves, the writer (or speaker) is themselves the implied subject, as is so often the case in Japanese.

Notes:

Modern orthography will forgive a writer who renders yaritashi all in kana as やりたし; the 遣 character is still in the standard set, but mostly tends to be used in other contexts, such as 派遣 (haken), “dispatch,” rather than in the verb yaru, which itself has taken on a bit of a charged meaning. The final negative suffix may also be rendered as ぬ (nu) without any change in meaning.

This saying is attributed to an Edo-era book of sayings called the 『譬喩尽』 (Tatoe-dzukushi), literally “an exhaustive list of metaphors.” It also appears as the ふ entry in the Edo iroha karuta set.

Example sentence:

「ああああどうしよう、好きな先輩からSMSが来たけど、文は遣りたし書く手は持たぬで完全に行き詰っちゃって、もう丸二日たったのに一言も返事ができてないんだ!」

(“Aaaa dou shiyou, suki na senpai kara SMS ga kita kedo, fumi wa yaritashi kakute wa motanu de kanzen ki yukidzumacchatte, mou maru futsuka tatta no ni hitokoto mo henji ga dekitenai nda!”)

[“ARGH, what should I do? I got a text from that upperclassman I like, but even though I want to write something I don’t know what to say and it’s got me completely blocked. Two whole days have already gone by but I haven’t even sent a single word!”]

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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