「日刊四字」へようこそ!

Now Featuring 1級 Grammar, Everyday Japanese That You Won't Find in the Book, and Language and Cultural Trivia!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

表現 Break: 能ある鷹は爪を隠す

I like the animalistic nature of today's 諺, and the advice it offers appeals highly to me, kind of like 不言実行. I've always thought that strengths are strongest when they're kept hidden (and I think that my powerful desire to learn languages is motivated way too much by my dreams of surprising people who think that I don't understand them, like a linguistic-rope-a-dope).

能ある鷹は爪を隠す
のう ある たか は つめ を かくす
nou aru taka wa tsume wo kakusu


Definition:
実力のある者は、それを見せびらかすようなことはしない。
Translations:
Literal - The talented hawk hides his talons.
1. The wise man does not make all of his abilities known.
2. It is better to play some of your cards close to your chest.
3. He/She who knows most, often says least.

Note that the Japanese definition here adds a nuance that my personal inclinations leave out: modesty. You don't just hide your talents because, as Paul Newman says, being the "unknown" gives you strength and makes you cool, but because showing-off is to be frowned upon. Modesty is a highly prized virtue, especially to the Japanese way of thinking.

There are some really cool expressions that encapsulate the same meaning, in an antonymous way:

  • 空樽は音が高い
    から だる は おと が たかい
    kara daru ha oto ga takai

    A loud sound indicates an empty barrel.

  • 能無し犬の高吠え
    のうなし いぬ の たかぼえ
    nounashi inu no takaboe

    A barking dog seldom bites (loudness masks weakness).

  • 口達者の仕事下手
    くちだっしゃ の しごと へた
    kuchidassha no shigoto heta

    The glib are poor workers.

  • 能無しの口叩き
    のうなし の くちたたき
    nounashi no kuchitataki

    The incompetence of braggarts.

  • 鳴く猫鼠捕らず
    なく ねこ ねずみ とらず
    naku neko nezumi torazu

    The cat that meows doesn't catch the mouse.
Wow... there were a lot of those.

例文:
A-san: あの子とファーストデートはどうだった?
How'd your first date with that girl go.
B-san: よかったよ。夕食は俺の手作り料理で、その後ギターで俺のオリジナル曲を彼女に弾いたり、俺が書いたポエムを読んだり、マッサージしたりしてやった。
Sweet. I cooked her dinner, then played her some of my original songs on guitar, read her my poems, and gave her a massage.
A-san: ファーストデートで?お前はバカじゃないの?2番目のデートはどうする予定?
On the first date? Isn't that overkill? What do you have planned for the second date?
B-san: ええと。。。
Uh...
A-san: わからないでしょう!「能ある鷹は爪を隠す」という諺は意味あるよ。
You don't know, do you? There's a reason they say to keep some of your strengths in reserve.

Also, does this proverb make anyone else think of the character Zatoichi? Follow-up question: Anyone see the latest Zatoichi incarnation? The female one?

6 comments:

Nirav said...

In terms of nuance, perhaps slightly different, but:

言わぬが花
Some things are better left unsaid.
(Both in that you are less likely to annoy/tick off/anger/etc someone, and in that sometimes it's more about what you don't say than about what you do)

AzzidisRidden said...

言わぬが花

Burn, Niro.

Nirav said...

はい、はい、すいませんね~

Actually, I have a topical one for this, too.

知らぬは亭主ばかりなり
shiranu wa teishu bakari nari
[When a wife is being unfaithful] The only one who doesn't know is her husband.

Used to poke fun at someone who is directly connected to something, and therefore really ought to know, but doesn't.

Michelle said...

こんにちは(^^)

北野武が出てるほうの「座頭市」は見たよ。
タップダンスのシーンがかっこ良くて
好きです。時代劇にタップダンスを
取り入れるって斬新だよね!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d8mCE6whMwM

aburbe said...

Regarding your literal translation of 能ある鷹は爪を隠す, according to the kanji it should be something like: the talented/skilled hawk hides its talons. 能 - talent, skill (and also Nou theatre)
脳 - brain (but is also read as nou)

I truly enjoy this blog. Since I started reading it, I learned tons of Japanese. you're doing a wonderful job, thanks.

AzzidisRidden said...

Thanks for the fix, aburbe. The original post has been changed, as per your correction! :)