Square Eggs that Look Round

“‘My dear old fish,’ said Mr Wonka, ‘go and boil your head!’” – he probably didn’t know about this saying.

丸い卵も切りようで四角
(Marui tamago mo kiriyou de shikaku;
“Even a round egg can be square, depending on how you cut it.”)

Definition:

A given thing will go smoothly – or not – depending on your choice of words and methods. Be careful, because the same essential content can create different impressions, or even cause offense, depending on the presentation. The devil’s in the details. Despite the image being the presentation of a cooked egg – in a way that gives it “horns,” despite the inoffensive roundness of its original shape – this saying mostly seems to refer to watching one’s tone while speaking.

Breakdown:

We begin with the adjective 丸い (marui), “round,” preceding and modifying the noun 卵 (tamago), “egg.” This is marked by the emphatic particle も (mo) as an extreme example of a given rule; “even.” The rule begins with the verb 切る (kiru), “to cut,” in prenominal form and acting as a noun; it is compounded with the noun よう (you, pronounced as a long “yo”), “form,” “style.” The compound is marked by the particle で (de) as the means by which something happens, but this is simply followed by the noun 四角 (shikaku), literally number-noun “four corners,” i.e. a rectangle or square. Any other structures or verbs are elided.

Notes:

This phrase is considered synonymous with, and sometimes followed by, the phrase 物も言いようで角が立つ (mono mo iiyou de kado ga tatsu), “a thing can cause offense depending on how it is said.”

Example sentence:

「学校の教師もそうかも知れないけど、チューターは特に、丸い卵も切りようで四角で、クライアントの間違いを直すときは、関係を損ねないように言葉遣いに気を付けないといけません」

(“Gakkou no kyoushi mo sou kamoshirenai kedo, chuutaa wa toku ni, marui tamago mo kiriyou de shikaku de, kuraianto no machigai wo naosu toki wa, kankei wo sokonenai you ni kotobadzukai ni ki wo tsukenai to ikemasen.”)

[“It’s probably the same for school teachers but especially for tutors, because presentation matters as much as content, when correcting a client’s mistakes, you need to pay careful attention to how you phrase things so as not to damage your relationship with them.”]

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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