Nobody tell the Merovingian.
(Mawata de kubi wo shimeru;
“To strangle with silk floss”)
Pressure or harm that comes at someone gradually or indirectly, rather than as an overt attack or dramatic event.
We begin with the noun 真綿 (mawata), literally “true cotton” but in this case referring to silk “floss” – see below for greater detail. This noun is marked by the particle で (de) as the means by which the verb is performed; in this case the verb in question is 絞める (shimeru), “to constrict,” “to strangle,” which appears in conclusive (or prenominal) form. The object of this verb, 首 (kubi), “neck,” is marked as the direct object of this verb by the particle を (wo).
真綿 may be a bit tricky. It’s translated as “silk floss,” and in the world of textiles “floss” apparently means strands of untwisted, or only lightly twisted, fibers that make for an especially soft wadding or thread and are often used for embroidery. In this case, the term refers to silk from the discarded cocoons of moths that were allowed to hatch, instead of being boiled with the pupa still inside, as seems to be standard practice. 真綿 appears in this saying because it is softer than regular silk thread.
真綿 may occasionally be replaced with synonym 粘綿 (nebawata), “sticky cotton.” 首 may be replaced with 喉 (nodo), “throat.” It is also considered acceptable to replace 絞める with the more generic homophone 締める (“to tighten”), although the more-precise former character is generally preferred.
This phrase is attributed to a 1711 Ukiyo-zoushi work titled 『傾城禁短気』 (Keiseikintanki).
(“Ano jimusho de wa, kore da to ieru ijime wa issai nakatta. Da ga shikashi, mainichi komakai koto wo chikuchiku tsukarete mawata de kubi wo shimerareteiru you na kibun ni natta kara, chissoku shinai uchi ni tenshoku shita nda.”)
[“There wasn’t anything at that office that you could point to and call bullying. That said, I was poked and needled about minor details every day until it felt like I was slowly being strangled, so I changed jobs before it could suffocate me completely.”]