It's time for a round-up of Japanese expressions that have confused and amused me recently.
A Japanese friend wrote this to me:
I need your honest advice.
歯 (は: tooth); 衣着せぬ (きぬきせぬ: to speak frankly);
願いします (おねがいします: please (humble form))
Oh, dear. On top of feeling the fear that immediately strikes when someone wants total honesty, I had no idea what was going on here. Why was there a tooth (歯) wearing (着) clothing (衣)? I did notice that the yomi of きぬきせぬ had a nearly perfect internal repetition, and that soothed me, but I was mostly riled up!
The term 衣着せぬ is in a negative form; its antonym would be 歯に衣着せる. A site aboutproverbs has this to say about that latter phrase: "If the back teeth 'wear clothing' or have anything stuck between them, speech becomes unclear. Therefore, 歯に衣着せる describes a way of talking that makes remarks sound unclear and secretive."
I do wish this image weren't so gross! Anyway, we need to return to a negative form of the expression. That gives us a remark that sounds perfectly clear and straightforward. My friend wanted me to speak in that way to him. About what?! I was almost afraid to ask. "Oh," he said casually. "Just tell me when you see mistakes in my English." Hmm. That's another can of worms altogether. It's not a one-time question about a sensitive topic. Rather, it's an uncomfortable conversation that could last for years, even though his English is amazingly good.
As long as we're talking about body parts such as teeth, let's think about shoulders. The shoulder kanji appears in these puzzling comments from a native speaker who wrote to me after reading one of my essays:
You have been working diligently. I think it must be hard work. Please pace yourself and continue in a relaxed manner.
こつこつ (a state of continuous work); やる (to do, shown here in its polite form, which is identical to the passive form); 大変 (たいへん: difficult); 思う (おもう: to think); 気負う (きおう: to be too eager); 肩の力を抜く (かたのちからをぬく: to let the tension out of one's shoulders); 続ける (つづける: to continue)
This sentence was nearly impossible for me to understand, making use as it did of several idioms. Fortunately, my friend Yoshio-san provided a translation. Even so, I felt confused by quite a few things.
I'll skip around, starting with ...
[To read the rest, go to Joy o' Kanji!]
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