9 Funny Japanese Phrases You’ve Never Heard Of

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Admit it. There’re some funny phrases in Japanese that leave you scratching your head.

Many of them deal with animals and body parts and don’t make much sense to native English speakers. In this post, you’ll look at 9 funny Japanese phrases and learn how they’re used. Let’s go!

1. 蛇足 = “Snake Legs”

Hiragana: だそく

Romaji: dasoku

This expression originated from a historical Chinese text. Since snakes don’t have legs, this phrase means something additional that’s unnecessary and possibly detrimental.

If someone makes a remark that’s uncalled for and nonconstructive, you can describe it as “蛇足.”

2. 犬猿の仲 = “Dog and monkey relationship”

Hiragana: けんえんのなか

Romaji: ken-en no naka

You use this phrase when talking about two people who are at loggerheads and hate each other.

If their relationship is stormy and they’re on very bad terms with bitter enmity between them, you say that they’re “犬猿の仲.”

The English equivalent would be “they’re like or they fight like cats and dogs.”

3. 喉から手が出る = “My hand is coming out of my throat”

Hiragana: のどからてがでる

Romaji: nodo kara te ga deru

You say this phrase when you want something really badly and you think you’ll die if you can’t have it. Imagine: you want something so much that your hand comes out of your throat!

The expression probably came from a time when food was much more scarce and people were so hungry that it felt like a hand might come out from your stomach through your throat to grab any food that was around.

4. 俎板の上の鯉 = “A carp on a cutting board”

Hiragana: まないたのうえのこい

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Romaji: manaita no ue no koi

When you’re totally helpless and there’s nothing you can do about a certain (desperate) situation, you say that you’re “俎板の上の鯉.”

You have no control over your fate, your fate is in others’ hands and you’re at the mercy of others. This is equivalent to the English phrases “on the chopping board” or “a sitting duck.”

5. 耳に胼胝ができる = “I’m growing callouses in my ear”

Hiragana: みみにたこができる

Romaji: mimi ni tako ga dekiru

Have you ever been tired of hearing the same comments, complaints or words of caution over and over again?

If you’re sick of hearing something repeatedly, you “grow callouses on your ears” from hearing the same thing so many times.

If, for example, like many mums around the world, your mother is constantly telling you to be careful of this and that, you may be tempted to say in exasperation, “耳に胼胝ができる!”

6. 猫の手も借りたい = “Borrowing a cat’s paw”

Hiragana: ねこのてもかりたい

Romaji: neko no te mo karitai

The Japanese language has many expressions involving cats, and of course, I have to include one of them here.

I’m sure we’ve all had the experience of being so busy that we barely have time to breathe.

At extreme times like these, you can say that you’re so busy, you’ll be willing to borrow even a cat’s paw for extra help.

If you have a work assignment deadline coming up, and a pile of dirty laundry and dishes staring at you accusingly all at the same time, then yes, you’re allowed to say “猫の手も借りたい!”

7. 爪の垢を煎じて飲む = “Brew and drink the dirt from under someone’s fingernails”

Hiragana: つめのあかをせんじてのむ

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Romaji: tsume no aka wo senjite nomu

If you want to follow someone’s example in order to improve yourself, what should you do?

Well, according to this common Japanese idiom, you should brew the dirt from under the fingernails of that person and drink it like a tea, in the hopes that some of the admirable qualities of that person will somehow be transferred onto you.

Of course, no one takes this expression literally, so don’t start collecting dirt from people’s fingernails!

8. 目の中に入れても痛くない = “It won’t hurt to put him/her in my eye”

Hiragana: めのなかにいれてもいたくない

Romaji: me no naka ni iretemo itaku nai

When you find someone (usually a child or grandchild or sometimes even a pet) so cute that you have no words to describe how dear he/she/it is to you, you can say this phrase.

Of course, putting objects in your eye will hurt! This phrase signifies that you love that person to bits and is a drastic declaration of affection.

I don’t think anyone will try this literally, but it’s quite a frequently used expression.

If you have adorable young nieces or nephews, you can say they’re so cute that “目の中に入れても痛くない!”

9. 箸より重い物を持ったことがない = “Never having had to lift anything heavier than chopsticks”

Hiragana: はしよりおもいものをもったことがない

Romaji: hashi yori omoi mono wo motta koto ga nai

This phrase is used to describe someone who has an easy life.

Because this person was born to a rich family, he/she was brought up in a protective environment and never had to work a day in his/her life.

This is equivalent to the English phrase “born with a silver spoon in one’s mouth.”

Conclusion

You’ve just seen 9 odd and funny Japanese phrases. Try this: Pick one of them to use in the coming week so you don’t forget what you’ve just learned.

If you enjoyed this, read the next post in this series: Useful Japanese Phrases.