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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

鶏口牛後

けいこうぎゅうご
keikou gyuugo

~The first in an occasional series of cow-related words and phrases~

As you all are aware (or should be), 2009 is the year of the ox/cow, depending on which language you are speaking. Unlike my two co-writers, one of whom is a boar/pig and the other a rat, I happened to have been born in a cow year, which means that this year I am a 年男, or man born under the same sign as the current year. Accordingly, it's been my plan to do a series of posts on "cow-words" in honor of both the new year and myself for some time now, and this post is the first in that series.

This is something of an odd yoji to start off with, because it doesn't give the most flattering view of cows, but I'm starting with it because it's probably among the more useful ushi-kotoba that I've come across. 鶏口牛後 is another one of those yoji's that has an ancient Chinese backstory, so gather round for storytime!

Back in the day, during the Warring States Period in China, the country of Han seemed on the brink of becoming a tributary state to the expanding country of Qin (later the first dynasty of China). Seeing this, and knowing that becoming a tributary would mean the certain doom of Han, Su Chin (I think - his name, 蘇秦, is read as そしん in Japanese) went to the king and said:

むしろ鶏口となるも、牛後となるなかれ
むしろけいこうとなるも、ぎゅうごとなるなかれ
keikou to naru mo, gyuugo to naru nakare


Better to be a chicken's mouth than a cow's butt!

Jet Li as the first Qin emperor in the stinkfest third Mummy movie...

Moved by these words (and not wanting to be a cow's butt), the King of Han decided against joining the Qin, and instead formed alliances with other neighboring states against them. (Of course, they all ended up being subsumed by the Qin anyway...) 鶏口牛後 is an abbreviation of that famous line.

I know what I want the next time I go to Japan...

Definition:
大きな組織で細々とやるのより、たとえ小さい組織でもトップになれ
Translation:
1. Rather be the first in a village than second in Rome.
2. Better to be a big fish in a little pond, than vice versa.

例文: 大手の企業に入ったって、トップになれる倍率はものすごく低い。だったら鶏口牛後の精神で起業をしたほうがましだ。
Even if you get into a big company, your chances of making it to the top are slim to none. That's why you're better off remembering that it's better to be first in a village than second in Rome and starting something on your own.

I know what I want the next time I go to Japan...

1 comment:

SashTheRed said...

Cool :) It's like "Better be a king in Hell, than a servant in Heaven"...
Or in Hebrew we have "Rosh la shu'alim bimkom Zanav la arayot", or to put it plainly, "better be a head to foxes than a tail to lions"