Idioms and Economy of Language

I was talking with a co-worker about my limited facility with Japanese and my interest in improving my facility with that language. During the course of our conversation, she mentioned a fascinating aspect of Japanese for expressing certain idioms or proverbs. That’s were I learned about yoji-jukugo (四字熟語), which are idiomatic expressions made up of four kanji characters. These idioms are written only in kanji only and have no kana between them.

One such example would be the Japanese equivalent of the idiom, “two birds with one stone.” This is rendered as isseki nichou (一石二鳥) (literally, “one stone, two birds”). There are many more yoji-jukugo, many of which have similar versions in English (and many other languages besides).

The Chinese equivalent from which yoji-jukugo originate are called chengyu (成语). The same idiom above has a similar chengyu that translates as, “two birds, one arrow” (yī jiàn shuāng diāo, written 一箭双雕). Another one I like is sān rén chéng hǔ (三人成虎) (literally, “three men make a tiger“), which refers to how a repeated rumor may be erroneously accepted as truth.

There are lots of examples of these idioms including a chengyu of the day. You learn something new every day.

Both comments and pings are currently closed.

Comments are closed.