Tag Archives: Japanese idioms

Five famous idioms…in Japanese

22 Jul

Awhile back I wrote a post about Japanese idioms called 「慣用句」 (“kanyouku“).

These are expressions in Japanese such as:
「ゴマすり」 (“Gomasuri“) which literally means to grind sesame seeds…but the meaning of the expression is to “brown nose” (which itself is an idiom in English).

A "suribachi" and "surikogi" are tools to actually grind sesame seeds in Japan.

But there is another type of idiom in Japan called 「四字熟語」 (“yojijukugo“).
This type of expression originated in China and uses four characters to give advice in a simple poetic form.

I’m not sure how it is in the Chinese language (since I can’t speak Chinese at all) but this type of idiom doesn’t actually follow proper Japanese-language grammar…but that’s part of what gives them their simple poetic charm.

What I want to do with this blog post is a type of game using five famous Japanese yojijukugo idioms.

You don’t need to know how to read or understand Japanese.

I will write the five idioms and give the literal meaning of the four characters that comprise each expression.
In the comments section of this post, try to guess the English equivalent of each Japanese idiom…and then come back to this post and read the answers which I will have at the bottom of this post.

Try to guess what each expression is in English before you read the answers! The literal meaning of the characters should give you a hint.

So let’s begin. Here are the five idioms and their literal meanings:

1. 「一石二鳥」 (いっせきにちょう)…literal meaning: “One stone, two birds“.

2. 「十人十色」 (じゅうにんといろ)…literal meaning: “Ten people, ten colors“.

3. 「七転八起」 (しちてんはっき)…literal meaning: “Seven stumbles, eight (times) get up“.

4. 「異体同心」 (いたいどうしん)…literal meaning: “Different bodies, same heart“.

5. 「自画自賛」 (じがじさん)…literal meaning: “Own picture, self congratulate“.

OK. Do you think you’ve figured out the English equivalent to these Japanese idioms?
Click here to go to this post’s comment section and write your guess.

And then after you’ve guessed what you think the English is for these Japanese idioms, come back to this post and read the answers at the bottom of this post.

The answers are down here:

Did you write a guess in the comments section?

The answers are at the bottom.

The answers:

1. 「一石二鳥」 (いっせきにちょう)…literally: “One stone, two birds”…meaning: “Kill two birds with one stone“.

2. 「十人十色」 (じゅうにんといろ)…literally: “Ten people, ten colors”…meaning “Different strokes for different folks“.

3. 「七転八起」 (しちてんはっき)…literally: “Seven stumbles, eight (times) get up”…meaning “Never give up (or “Fall down seven times, get up eight”).

4. 「異体同心」 (いたいどうしん)…literally: “Different bodies, same heart”…meaning “Two people in one accord“.

5. 「自画自賛」 (じがじさん)…literally: “Own picture, self congratulate”…meaning “Tooting your own horn“.

How many did you get correct?

Japanese Idioms

8 Feb

An idiom, by dictionary definition, is

An expression whose meaning is not predictable from the usual meanings of its constituent elements…

(according to Dictionary.com)

In Japanese, it’s 慣用句 (kanyouku).

An example of an English-language 慣用句 (idiom) is “kick the bucket“…which, far from it’s literal definition, means “die“.

Here are some Japanese 慣用句 (idioms):

  • へそを曲げる (Heso-o-mageru): (lit. “bend your belly-button”) means: “To sulk“.
  • 尻尾をまく(Shippo-o-maku): (lit. “Coil your tail”) means: “Be defeated and demoralized” (same as “Run away with your tail between your legs”).
  • 目を丸くする(Me-o-maruku-suru): (lit. “Make round eyes”) means: “Be very surprised“.
  • 胸を打つ(Mune-o-utsu): (lit. “Beat your chest”) means: “Feel touched / emotional“.
  • アゴが外れる(Ago-ga-hazureru): (lit. “Dislocate your jaw”) means: “Laugh loudly“.
  • ゴマすり(Gomasuri): (lit. “Grind sesame”) means: “Brown nose / Sucking up“.
  • 花に嵐(Hana-ni-arashi): (lit. “Flowers to storms”) means: “Misfortune often follows happiness“.
  • 花より団子(Hana-yori-dango): (lit. “A snack rather than flowers”) means: “Practical things are preferred over the aesthetic“.
  • 根も葉もない(Ne-mo-ha-mo-nai): (lit. “Without roots nor leaves”) means: “Groundless / Unproven“.

I’ll add some more later.