A cup of water onto the sand.

In the Dry Land.

爪で拾って箕で零す
(Tsume de hirotte mi de kobosu;
“Scraped up with the fingernails; spilled with a basket”)

Definition:

Some resource that was gathered slowly and with great effort over an extended period of time is used up in an instant. Often this suggests a sense of disappointment, or that the resource has been squandered. By extension, this phrase may describe a situation of meager income and huge expenses. The image is of grain painstakingly picked up by hand but then accidentally spilled again.

Breakdown:

We begin with the noun 爪 (tsume), “fingernail,” marked by the particle で (de) as the means by which the verb 拾う (hirou), “to gather,” “to pick up,” is performed. This verb appears in conjunctive form, and points us to a following, parallel verb phrase. This begins with the noun 箕 (mi), “winnowing basket” – that is, a shallow woven tray for shaking grain to separate it from chaff. This is also marked as the means of an action by the particle で (de), and the action in this case is 零す (kobosu), “to spill,” which appears in conclusive form.

Notes:

While some versions of this phrase write kobosu in kana as こぼす, every kanji version that I’ve found uses the character 零, despite this being a nonstandard reading for a character which is often read as rei and used to mean “zero.” The final verb may also be replaced with あける (akeru), “to empty [something].” Beyond this, there’s practically a genre of such sayings with work done by a small tool such as a needle or an ear-pick, and then undone by a much larger tool, such as a hoe or rake.

Example sentence:

「生き残ったことは勿論嬉しいけど、長い歳月を費やして蓄えて、全身全霊を注いで魔女用の帽子に編み込んだ魔力が火竜の襲撃であっと言う間に灰にされてしまって、爪で拾って箕で零したような鬱陶しい気持ちはずっと消えない」

(“Ikinokotta koto wa mochiron ureshii kedo, nagai saigetsu wo tsuiyashite takuwaete, zenshinzenrei wo sosoide majoyou no boushi ni amikonda maryoku ga hiryuu no shuugeki de a tto iu ma ni hai ni sarete shimatte, tsume de hirotte mi de koboshita you na uttoushii kimochi wa zutto kienai.”)

[“Of course I’m glad that I survived! But the magic power that I had spent long years building up, and that I poured body and soul into the work of weaving into a witch’s hat, was reduced to ash in the blink of an eye during the dragon’s attack. It’s like everything I’d scraped together by hand was dashed to the floor, and this heavy feeling won’t go away.”]

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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