Saturday, March 25, 2017

Japanese idioms

Let's learn some Japanese idioms.
肩で風を切る(kata de kaze o kiru):  to walk with pride and arrogance.

Literally it means to "cut the wind with the shoulders".

Unfortunately I don't know where this expression comes from.
But I suspect it has something to do with 裃(kamishimo), the formal attire of a samurai, where the shoulders are made to look bigger:

I think the expression may have come from this attire, because it is a formal attire used only on special occasions, so the samurai would try to look as imposing as possible.
But I may be wrong, I am not sure...
顔から火が出る(kao kara hi ga deru): to feel mortified with embarassment.

Literally it means to have "fire coming from the face".

Even though it is considered an idiom, I think it is easy to see where this expression comes from.
Intense embarassment can cause blushing which is caused by the flux of blood to the face. And that can also cause the face to become hot.
鎬を削る(shinogi o kezuru)
火花を散らす(hibana o chirasu)

Both expressions above have the same meaning: to fight desperately.
And both expression come from the same source: to fight with swords.

鎬 (shinogi) is the central part of the blade of a sword.
削る (kezuru) means to shave, to cut off, to sharpen.

So 鎬を削る literally means to shave the blade, to sharpen the blade.

火花(hibana) means "sparks".
散らす(chirasu) means to scatter, to disperse, to spread.

Contrary to what is depicted in movies, a real sword fight should produce lots of sparks at every strike.

So if your Japanese friend tells you he (or she) wants "to sharpen the blade" he/she either wants to kill you or... wants to have sex with you! Either way you are in trouble! (yes, it is a lame joke)
後ろ髪を引かれる(ushirogami o hikareru): to hesitate, to feel reluctant, to be unable to let go, to feel regret.

Literally it means "to have one's hair pulled from behind", and consequently being unable to walk forward.

Nowadays most men have short hair in Japan, but in ancient times most people, including men, had long hair, so pony tails were quite common.

Why men would cut the front hair and become bald on purpose is a mystery to me though...
油を売る(abura o uru): waste time in idle conversation; dawdle.

It literally means "to sell oil".

According to the dictionary, it comes from the oil peddlers of the Edo era, who used to chat with customers for a long time, while selling hair oil.

So next time you see your Japanese friend goofing around tell him to "stop selling oil and go back to work"!
地団駄を踏む(jidanda o fumu): to stomp one's feet on the ground due to anger or frustration.

But the literal meaning of 地団駄を踏む is "to stomp on bellows".

じだんだ or じたたら or たたら was a kind of bellows used by ancient blacksmiths and was operated by foot.
A bellows is a device the intensifies fire by blowing air into it.

Children all over the world seem to stomp their feet on the ground when they are angry... It seems to be an universal behaviour.
Probably because of the similarities, people started to describe this behaviour as "stomping on bellows".
相槌を打つ(aizuchi o utsu)

The best definition I found is the following:
"conversation gap filler — short and quick responses made while listening to someone to show your interest or willingness to hear their story or to encourage the speaker to keep talking"

槌(tsuchi) means "hammer".
相槌を打つ literally means "to strike a hammer in turns".
It is when two or more people strike the same object with a hammer in turns repeatedly.
It is a very common sight when making rice cake (餅 mochi) in the traditional way:

But the expression 相槌を打つ was probably used to describe when  two people bow to each other repeatedly in turns, pretty much resembling the hammer situation.

I tried to find a good YouTube video to show this, but the best video I could find was this:
Maybe someone can find a better video?

The expression 相槌を打つ was probably later used to describe the quick responses used in conversation to indicate the listener is paying attention.

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