Smaller than an apple, at least

目の上の瘤
(Me no ue no kobu;
“A lump over the eye”)

Definition:

An eyesore; metaphorically, a person you don’t want to meet, usually because they always seem to get in your way and cause problems. Especially used for someone of higher social station, or greater ability, than your own. A thorn in your side. The image is of a swelling close enough to the eye that it interferes with your field of view and causes frustration.

Breakdown:

This noun phrase centers on its final noun, 瘤 (kobu), a lump or swelling. Repeated use of the associative particle の (no) specifies that the lump in question is 上 (ue), “above,” the 目 (me), “eye.”

Notes:

Apparently back in the day the slang term 瘤付き (kobutsuki) described the situation of having a child in tow – especially a child from a former relationship, which could get socially awkward and increase the logistical overhead of things you wanted to do. Today’s saying is explicitly not associated with that usage of 瘤.

A variant replaces 瘤 with synonym たん瘤 (tankobu); another rewrites the whole as 鼻の先の疣々 (hana no saki no iboibo, “warts on the tip of the nose”). Another saying specifically compares a woman’s sister-in-law to a 瘤 under the eye; apparently this could be an especially fraught relationship back before the modern/Western family structure was imported and meant that a wife no longer usually lives under the same roof as her husband’s entire family.

This is the め (me) entry of the Edo and Osaka iroha karuta sets.

Example sentence:

「ガッカリしたな。俺はあいつのことを良いライバルだと思ってて、お互いに切磋琢磨しながら成長していける関係だと思ってたけど、あいつは俺のことをただの目の上の瘤だと思ってたらしい。勿体ない!」

(“Gakkari shita na. Ore wa aitsu no koto wo ii raibaru da to omottete, otagai ni sessa takuma shinagara seichou shite ikeru kankei da to omotteta kedo, aitsu wa ore no koto wo tada no me no ue no kobu da to omotteta rashii. Mottai nai!”)

[“I’m disappointed. I thought that he would be a good rival, and that we could both grow by competing against each other, but I guess he just thought of me as an obstacle. What a waste!”]

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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