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Monday, January 5, 2009


かっけい ぎゅうとう
kakkei gyuutou

This is not the first yo-ji that I've come across that befuddles my Japanese Kanji conversion software, but it is the first I've found that has interchangeable halves. Google tells me that this one is acceptable as either, 割鶏牛刀 or 牛刀割鶏.

Let's check the kanji to find out why:

割 is all about divisions. Read either 「かつ」 (meaning to divide, halve, cut, or any other form of dividing something, ranging from the mild "dilute," to the violent "Smash!") or 「わり」 (meaning the ratio, the proportion, or again "diluted with," for talking about drinks, as in CaptainのCola割り.

鶏 is (にわ)とり and is as straightforward as they come: chicken, of the domestic variety.

牛 is coincidental, I swear. Even though this is the year of the ox, I wasn't trying to foist any cow themed learnings on you. Besides, when it comes to the year, this kanji gets used: 丑. You might remember it from a lengthy post about why Japan is crazy for unagi on 土用の丑の日.

And last but not least, 刀, which most of you will recognize as "katana," and has popped up with a とう pronunciation at least once before on the Daily Yo-ji, in its very early days: 一刀両断 from all the way back in November of 2007.

Anyhow, I have an English equivalent expression for this rolling around in my head somewhere, but I can't seem to grasp it. のどがかゆい!

So I like to think of it as the inverse of that metaphor about "bringing a knife to a gun fight." 割鶏牛刀 is more like "bringing THIS GUN to a knife fight."

Literal: Using a meat ax to carve a chicken.
1. Going to unnecessary and showy lengths to accomplish something simple.
2. Using a sledgehammer to crack a nut.

The thing that you want to keep in mind, if you ever have the chance to USE this expression, is that you probably shouldn't. Well, at least not in Yo-ji form. See, the problem is that the phrase 割鶏 (かっけい) is something you will NEVER come across in spoken Japanese. It's rare enough in written Japanese. So any usage of 割鶏牛刀 that I can find solves this problem by employing one of the much more common words that you can make with 割、namely 割く (さく;saku).

Like this: 「鶏を割くに牛刀,」 which means that in today's post, you've effectively learned one yo-ji and one non-yo-ji ことわざ. You're welcome!

例文 (loosely based on true events) :
Brett: coughs.
Fumiko: あなた、そこで横になって、少々お待ちしてね。
Lie down over there and wait, okay?
Brett: 何を?
For what?
Fumiko: 今先、救急車を呼んだから、着く前に死なないようにガマンしてください!
I just called for an ambulance, so PLEASE try not to die before they get here!
Uh... What?
Fumiko: もう、近づかないでお願い!インフルエンザは映すものだわ!
STOP! Don't come any closer! Influenza is contagious!
Brett: おらー!インフルエンザに罹っとらんさ!救急車をカンセルしろお前!
What? I DON'T have the flu! Call off the ambulance!
Fumiko: あなた入院したほうがいいよ!
Babe, you should go to the hospital!
Brett: 咳のため、入院?鶏を割くに牛刀を用いんだぜ!
The hospital? For a cough? That's like amputating for a splinter!


Claytonian said...

I think there were perhaps a couple typos in the example?: 読んだ and 用いんだ

Anyways, happy new year, keep up the good work, and be aware that old men are now reading your blog and that is my fault.

Speaking of teaching:
You joined the English club just to make a friend? That's overdoing it ; just invite them to go drinking and you've got a friend.

Actually, I think the English clubs are great ways to make friends, foreign and local alike.

AzzidisRidden said...

Hey Clay!

Welcome back and a Happy New Year to you. We're happy to have you and ALL of your old men.

The 「用いんだぜ」 confusion is caused by the fact that I used the verb 用いる with a ~だぜ on the end, and the fact that I conjugated in a rare way that I didn't fully understand, but gets used with this yoji which is also, as the tags note, rare.

I just accepted the usage of もちいんだぜ as the masculine informal ーんです being added to a verb that was modified into a noun, in the same way that 読む becomes 読み or 泳ぐ gets changed into 泳ぎ。But the more I thought about that, it clearly wasn't right, so internet searches revealed the fact that 用いん stands alone... but pretty much ONLY next to this yo-ji.

Some further Brett-centric research, into this conjugation told us that it was archaic, and had to do with the fact that 用いる used to be 用ふ。I looked that up and found this site about 旧仮名使い, Japanese before the post-WWII language reforms. It even gives an explanation for why 言う gets pronounced iyu!

If you're interested in old Japanese, and like reading about stuff like that, check it out. It comes in handy, especially as it pertains to this site, because these archaic usages still pop-up alongside modern day expressions. Remember the bit about using ぬ as a negative verb conjugation?

And trust me, I feel a lot better now that I know what I was saying.

Thanks again, Clay!

Claytonian said...

I encounter many ぬ-using set phrases these days.

Good researchin' there