なまびょうほう は おおけが の もと
namabyouhou wa ookega no moto
I've recently been finding myself afflicted by a form of "Nihongo Senior-Moments," wherein I forget ridiculously easy Japanese that I know that I've known for a long time, yet somehow just can't get out when needed (apparently this is one of the little-known side effects of leaving Japan and going to law school). This is not one of those times, at least I don't think; somehow, as much as it completely blows my mind, I don't think I ever saw/learned this phrase until very recently, when I was watching a DVD of 8時だヨ！全員集合!, a well known comedy show from the 70's and 80's. Though I couldn't find the actual clip that contained this phrase on youtube, I did manage to find another, equally funny clip, which you should watch before TBS (Tokyo Broadcasting... Station?) decides to exercise its copyright and have it removed.
So, what does this have to do with 生兵法は大怪我のもと? Does this post continue my long-standing tradition of only posting about things that could be used to describe my own (mis-)adventures? Is there going to be more blatant usage of google images to provide illustrative pictures? All in good time, children. All in good time. Good time being now.
Let's take a look at the kanji that make up this phrase. The first one should be familiar to most of you by now, especially those of you who, like me, enjoy beer (FACT: this was the first kanji I learned EVARRRR). If you ever want to make a Chinese-language speaker's head spin, tell them how many readings this character has in Japanese. My dictionary gives about 20, plus another 10 or so if you include the 名乗り readings, or how you might read this character in someone's name. The reading that we are interested in here is "nama," which means "raw" or "green." (It also has other meanings, but those are more fit for the ever-upcoming Nightly Yoji.) Draft beer, incidentally, is referred to as "raw" beer in Japan, and it was on a bottle of Asahi Super Dry in a sushi restaurant many years ago that I was introduced to this reading and meaning, just a few short weeks after I first started learning Japanese. This auspicious beginning means that in my mind this character has only good connotations; unfortunately, here, it has rather negative ones; its meaning is closer to "raw," as in "inexperienced" or "unpolished" - someone who gets too big for their britches.
Wrong in so many wonderful ways...
兵法 is a two-character compound which stands for exactly what it sounds like. 兵 (perhaps better known as hei) means "soldier," and 法 means "law," giving us "strategy," or, according to the interwebs, "The Art of War." Modify this with the aforementioned 生, and you get a half-baked idea of how to wage war, or by extension of how to do anything, really. And when you try to put this idea into action, you get an 大怪我, which is literally a "large wound." Finally, もと seems to be written in kana for the most part, though it also comes up as 基 sometimes as well. Regardless, here it means "the source." Now that we know what all the parts mean, we can get ourselves around to a
1) A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.
2) People who don't know what you're doing, check yo'selves before you wreck yo'selves.
To myself, to all you other Japanese-language learners, and indeed to all language learners regardless of target language, I think that this is capital advice. I can't tell you how many times I have thought to myself "But I used 100000% correct Japanese! How come they gave me the pickled fish-balls instead of the ice cream?" (Note: This is in no way meant to diminish the deliciousness of fish-balls [srsly]. But when a man wants his ice cream, dagnabbit, he wants his ice cream.) Though there are certainly examples of the "selective hearing" phenomenon out there, there are quite a few of us making ridiculous mistakes that we just aren't recognizing as such. Here's an example from my own experience:
If I had just scored 2 points higher on last week's test, I could have passed!
Wow, you were really close!
It's so detailed～!
Alas, I had mistaken くわしい for くやしい, and had myself an embarrassing 日本語-fail. I'm not saying don't try to use new words in conversation, or even that you should be scared to have a few fails here and there. Just, you know, proofread (and have someone else proofread for you) before you publish a translation or get a tattoo.