We have to try!

Puffer-fish lined up

(Boy, if you got that one, massive points. You win.)


“If it’s the case that if it tries to come out then it will be able to come, then it will come out, but it can’t come out, so it won’t come out. Even if it tries to go it can’t go, so it can’t go, so it won’t.”)


It ain’t comin’ out.


We begin with the verb 出る (deru), “to come out,” in volitional form, then again, in hypothetical potential form, then again in conjunctive form attached to the verb 来る (kuru) in sentence-final form, marking the end of the clause. This is followed by ばってん (batten), “but.”

Next comes 出る again, in volitional form followed by negative potential form, with けん (ken), “therefore,” separating it from the same verb for a sixth time, appearing for the second time in conjunctive form which again connects it to 来る, which appears here in negative form, followed by a second けん.

This is followed by the verb 来る in volitional form, negative potential form, then after another けん another, different, negative potential form, and then after another けん, again twice more, for emphasis presumably, in negative sentence-final form.


In some cases, the ば of the initial hypothetical formation is replaced by が (ga), apparently without any change in meaning, for no apparent reason.

This whole thing is in deep, thick, gooey, rich Nagasaki dialect, in which – among other things – 来る can also be used to mean its exact opposite 行く (iku), “to go.” Good luck telling apart your comings and your goings!

Today’s offering is probably inextricably linked to Nagasaki’s famous dragon dances, famously performed during the Kunchi festival, in which at least a dozen people team up to play a dragon chasing after its egg. The dragon, unfortunately, is famously sulky and will repeatedly give up the chase and curl into a ball, so that the audience is repeatedly called upon to yell at it until it acquiesces and resumes the chase/dance. Animal-rights organizations have thus far had no more luck in ending this subtropical equivalent to bear-baiting than they’ve had in ending the more infamous practice of whale-hunting. At any rate, sometimes the dragon just doesn’t want to come out, you know?

Happy April first, by the way. Look for an update tomorrow!

Example sentence:

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But do we need the sea?


Literally: heaven – earth – nothing – use

Alternately: “This side up.” As in, “Please don’t turn this box upside-down.” In this case, 天地 simply refers to “up and down,” and 無用 expresses prohibition.


Image unrelated?

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Yinstring and Yangtwine

(Kafuku wa azanaeru nawa no gotoshi;
“Good and ill fortune are entwined like (the strands of) a rope”)


Good luck and bad luck are intimately and inextricably connected; you can’t have only one or the other. Every cloud has a silver lining and every windfall sets you up for a fall. Success leads to failure and vice versa. Life is full of ups and downs.


We begin with the noun 禍福 (kafuku) – the former character means “calamity,” and the latter, “good luck,” so the compound noun encompasses both good and back fortune, weal and woe. This cosmic noun is marked as the topic of discussion by the particle は (wa).

The comment centers around the adjective 如し (gotoshi), “like,” “the same as,” which the associative particle の (no) attaches to the noun 縄 (nawa), “rope,” which in turn is described by the verb 糾う (azanau), “to twist (something).” This verb appears in imperative form to allow the addition of perfective suffix り (ri), which in turn appears in prenominal form in order to attach to the noun nawa. This structure means that the hope has been twisted and remains in that state, equivalent to the modern ~ている conjugation.


This saying is derived from our friend the Records of the Grand Historian (史記, Shiki in Japanese).

Example sentence:


(“Kouji no sei de toomawari shinai to ikenakatta kedo, okage de michibata de hyakuendama wo nimai mo mistuketa kara, jihanki de kono roiyaru miruku tii ga kaeta yo. Kafuku wa azanaeru nawa no gotoshi to wa kono koto da ne.”)

[“Because of construction I had to take the long way around, but thanks to that I found two hundred-yen coins on the roadside and so I could buy this Royal Milk Tea. This is what they mean when they say good luck and bad luck are intertwined!”]

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Literally: surface – back – one – body

Alternately: Two things (especially things seen as being in opposition to each other) are inextricably linked, parts of the same whole, opposite faces of the same coin.


For you SF fans out there!

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But what comes from a lyre?

In Rome, a big fire?

(Usotsuki wa dorobou no hajimari; “A liar is the beginning of a thief”)


Someone who becomes capable of lying glibly will also be able to calmly steal or rob. Lies are the first step on a path to more serious wrongdoing. Becoming accustomed to lying also prepares you psychologically for other bad deeds or crimes.


We begin with the noun 嘘 (uso), “falsehood,” to which is appended the verb つく (tsuku), “to tell (a lie),” appearing in conjunctive form and functioning as a noun: an usotsuki is a liar, and the liar is marked as the topic being discussed with the particle は (wa). The comment is 始まる (hajimaru), “to begin,” also acting as a noun in conjunctive form. The particle の (no) associates this “beginning” with the noun 泥棒 (dorobou), “thief,” “robber.”


Note that this saying technically doesn’t apply to social “white lies,” childish fibbing, or even people who lie but feel nervous about it: it focuses on the presumably crime-prone sociopathy that allows someone to lie fluently and without remorse. That said, it’s still commonly used as an admonition against all sorts of lying.

The tsuki may also be written with kanji as 吐き, although this is rare.

Example sentence:


(Usotsuki wa dorobou no hajimari to kodomo ni imashimete gofun mo tatanai uchi ni, tonari no okusan ni tsumi no nai uso da to wa ie, uso wo tsuita jibun wa dou ka na. Ahaha.”)

[“I warned my kids that lying is the first step toward stealing, and then before five minutes had passed I lied to the lady next door. Even if it just a little white lie, what does that say about me? A ha ha.”]

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But are we getting a Tucker, a Church, or a Caboose?


Literally: wake up – death – revolve – life

Alternately: Coming back from the brink. Recovering from a seemingly-hopeless situation. A sudden turnaround. A Blue Team win deep in Red Team territory.

Notes: Apparently this phrase comes to us from the Taiping Guangji (太平広記, in Japanese Taihei kouki), a story collection from the early Song dynasty, where it was originally used to describe a doctor so skilled that they could bring the dead back to life.

回 may be replaced by 廻 without any change in pronunciation or meaning; the halves of the compound may also be reversed to produce 回生起死.

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Cheap is dear, but deer don’t cheep

For those counting, this is the 200th kotowaza! To celebrate, we’re… doing nothing special!

(Yasumonogai no zeniushinai; “Losing money by buying cheap”)


Especially cheap things tend to be poorly made; they fail to perform their functions properly, or wear out, or break down, and you end up losing money because they soon need to be replaced. The saying ignores factors that encourage price inflation like brand name recognition, monopolies, fads, and so on, but it still generally holds true that if you’re going to spend money on something, and you have room in your budget, it can be worthwhile to pay a little extra for quality and durability.


We “begin” three characters in with the verb 買う (kau), “to buy,” in conjunctive form, functioning as a noun. It’s prefixed by the noun 物 (mono), “thing,” causing the first consonant of 買い to become voiced, and this compound noun is further modified by prefixing the adjective 安い (yasui), “easy” or “cheap,” with the ending removed so that it too functions as a noun. Associative particle の (no) associates the result with another compound noun formed from the verb 失う (ushinau), “to lose,” also nominalized with the conjunctive form, and the noun 銭 (zeni), “money.”


銭 originally referred to a unit of mass, and later became a unit of currency equal to a hundredth of a yen, but like the more common 金 can also be a generic term for “money.”

This is the や entry of the Edo iroha karuta set.

Example sentence:

「もう、削っても削ってもこの鉛筆の芯はすぐ折れちゃうから使えない!十円だけだったけど、結局十円無駄にしちゃったぁ」 「だから、母さんいつも安物買いの銭失いに気をつけなさいって言ってるでしょ」

(“Mou, kezutte mo kezutte mo kono enpitsu no shin wa sugu orechau kara tsukaenai! Juuen dake datta kedo, kekkyoku juuen muda ni shichattaa.” “Dakara, kaasan itsumo yasumonogai no zeniushinai ni ki wo tsukenasai tte itteru desho.”)

[“Ugh, no matter how much I sharpen this pencil, the lead breaks right away. Useless! It was only ten yen, but it was ten yen wasted.” “And that’s why I’m always telling you to not waste money buying cheap.”]

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