A lance where your chin should be

枕戈待旦
chin.ka.tai.tan

Literally: pillow – “spear”* – wait – sunrise

Alternately: Always ready to give battle. Never dropping your guard or slacking off from necessary preparations. “Sleeping with a weapon as your pillow, awaiting the break of dawn.”

Notes: This phrase comes to us from the Book of Jin (Japanese 『晋書』 = Shinjo), a Tang-era history that looked back at the Jin Dynasty over two hundred years prior. (Note that this is a different work from the History of Jin, which covers a different dynasty that rose and fell a thousand years later!) Apparently an official named Liu Kun (劉琨, Japanese Ryuu Kon) learned that his friend had been promoted ahead of him, and wrote a letter complaining about this and extolling his own virtue as a warrior so utterly prepared for action that he bedded down on top of his weapons.

As is often the case with Chinese-origin phrases, this may be expanded into a full sentence, 戈を枕にして旦を待つ (Hoko wo makura ni shite ashita wo matsu). Contrast 枕を高くして寝る.

* As a rule, 戈 is translated through “localization” using a Western weapon name: lance; spear; pike, halberd. The actual original design is something closer to a long-hafted pick: the pointy bit is mounted and braced on the haft so that it projects out perpendicularly, although later designs seem to have added a spear-like vertical spike as well. Wiktionary has a pretty good chart showing how the character evolved from a pure pictogram depicting this shape into its current form.

Ge, ge, ge ge ge no ge!

The site I got this from is in Chinese, but I think it shows pretty clearly how the Chinese ge was different from a “spear.”

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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