When getting your toes wet is off the deep end
(Nurenu saki koso tsuyu wo mo itoe;
“Shun the dew before you get wet”)
It’s best to avoid even a minor error, because surviving the experience leads to relative comfort or even familiarity, which can lead to both repeats of the first error, and a deepening spiral into worse and more destructive acts. This isn’t a perfectionist screed, though. The phrase carries implications that the “error” in question is moral or ethical in nature: a crime, or especially a romantic or sexual impropriety.
We begin with the verb 濡れる (nureru), “to get wet,” with negative suffix ず (zu) in prenominal form ぬ (nu). This attaches to the noun 先 (saki), “before.” We’ve seen this in another kotowaza already, but what follows is new: the emphatic particle こそ (koso), capping off a dependent clause. The following independent clause begins with the noun 露 (tsuyu), “dew.” This is marked by the particle を (wo) as the object of a verb, but also by the emphatic particle も (mo) as being a somewhat extreme or unexpected example of what is to be verbed. And finally, the verb in question is 厭う (itou), “to hate,” “to shun,” in imperative form.
There are a number of related phrases; one states that 雨に濡れて露恐ろしからず (ame ni nurete tsuyu osoroshikarazu), “wet by the rain, the dew holds no fear.”
As perceptive readers may have guessed, right now I’m doing a “series” of kotowaza posts based on the traditional iroha ordering. However, the only actual iroha karuta phrase that I haven’t used yet is 糠に釘 (nuka ni kugi). The problem is that that’s a very short phrase which I already covered in passing, so devoting a whole post to it now didn’t feel appropriate. Instead, please enjoy this completely unrelated Japanese saying that starts with our site namesake, Nu.
(“Kodomo no toki, nurenu saki koso tsuyu wo mo itoe to iu kara, mayaku wa isshou tsukawanai to chikatta kedo, ima no ore wa konna ni yakkai na joukyou ni ochiitta.” “Iyaiya, omae no kafein izonshou wa mada karui hou da to omou zo.”)
[“They say that to stay dry you must loathe the dew, so when I was a kid, I swore that I would never do any drugs in my whole life. And yet, what a terrible state I’ve fallen to.”
“Dude, no. I’d say your dependence on caffeine is comparatively pretty mild.”]