Learn Three New Idioms in Japanese
Welcome back to our “Video & Article” series with tutor Miki. In this article and video Miki teaches three Japanese idioms that are easily misunderstood by English-speaking Japanese learners. Learn these three idioms to avoid misunderstandings and make your spoken Japanese more idiomatic.
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In today’s lesson we take a look at three daily expressions that are frequently used and also good to know because they are easily misunderstood by English-speaking Japanese learners. We will go over the expressions “足を引っ張る”, “塵も積もれば山となる”, and “人の噂も七十五日”.
The literal translation of this idiom is “To pull someone’s leg”, which is identical to an English idiom which means “to joke with someone”. In Japanese, however, this phrase means something entirely different. “足を引っ張る” means “to get in the way of someone’s success” in Japanese.
Literal translation: I don’t want to do anything that causes me to pull your leg.
Meaning: I don’t want to get in the way of your success.
This phrase can also be used in a group project or team work when you feel like you’re being a burden or hindering your team’s success.
I’m sorry for only getting in the way of your success.
So please be careful not to literally translate “to pull someone’s leg” into Japanese.
When you want to joke with someone you are close to you could say “冗談だよ” or “冗談冗談”. For example:
A: Turns out I’m going to the US tomorrow!
B: What? Really?
A: I’m just pulling your leg! / Just kidding!
The next idiom is “塵も積もれば山となる”, which literally translates to “Even dust becomes a mountain when it piles up”.
Although this idiom uses the the word “ちり”, which means dust, and refers to dust piling up (usually a negative thing), this phrase has a positive meaning. The dust stands for “many small things”, such as small activities or tiny acts that are performed everyday. This proverb is meant to teach that if you take a task or undertaking step by step, even if each step is small, if you continue for a long time, these small steps will eventually lead to a huge success.
For example, the dust could be a small, mundane activity, like remembering a few foreign words every day. If you manage to remember 5 new words every day, in 30 days you will have already accumulated 150 new words!
I remembered 5 new words everyday, and I eventually remembered 150 words. Even dust becomes a mountain when piled up!
This saying can be compared to the English proverb “Many a little makes a mickle”, or “A penny saved is a penny got” – both of these refer to many small amounts accumulating to one bigger amount.
Here is another example:
I try my best to save every month. Many a little makes a mickle. Alright, let’s keep it up!
The last proverb has a similar expression in English. However, this expression has a curiously different number than its English counterpart:
“噂” is rumour and “人
” means people. Hence, this expression translates to “People’s rumours last for 75 days”. This is meant to convey that rumours don’t last forever. In English, there’s a similar saying which is “A wonder lasts but 9 days”.
It’s interesting that rumours seem to last for 75 days in Japan, but only 9 days in the English-speaking world. Either way, the point seems to be that in time, news will be less interesting and rumours fade.
This is how you could use this idiom:
A: Someone spread a strange rumour about me. It’s really upsetting.
B: Don’t worry. Rumours only last for 75 days, right?
That’s everything for today. Thank you for reading this article, and please feel free to consult our native Japanese language teachers if you have any further questions!
|通じる||To run to, to lead to, to understand|
|足を引っ張る||To stand in the way of someone’s success|
|塵も積もれば山となる||Even dust becomes a mountain when accumulated, many a little makes a mickle|
|人の噂も七十五日||Rumours last for 75 days, a wonder lasts but 9 days|
|落ち込む||To be down, to feel depressed|