Friday, March 9, 2012

Kotowaza #1: The basics and a Buddha in hell

Kotowaza (諺) are another element of Japanese (along with puns) that I've taken a liking to, and so I thought I'd share some. If the word is new to you, kotowaza are proverbs or sayings. Like in English or in many languages, I'd imagine, some sayings are used more often than others and some are pretty obscure. So if you do take a fancy to some of these and decide to add them to your repertoire, just be warned that not all of them can be naturally employed in daily conversation. The few that I have down pat I don't use often, myself, but it is pretty fun to be able to understand them when I do hear or see them.

I'm going to start off with one that I came across recently:

読み: じごくでほとけにあったよう
略語: 地獄で仏


In English, this translates literally to something like "It's like I met a merciful person in hell" (though 仏 can also mean "Buddha").

I think this is a pretty good English version of the meaning behind it: "In my hour of true need I found a true friend."

Though I'm not exactly sure a "true friend" is what's meant here. What comes to mind for me is the story of the good Samaritan. The guy that had the crap beaten out of him was in his hour of need, and someone merciful came upon him and helped him. I think that situation would probably be an ideal use for this proverb.

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