Yojijukugo (Japanese: ?) is a Japanese lexeme consisting of four kanji (Japanese characters). English translations of yojijukugo include "four-character compound", "four-character idiom", "four-character idiomatic phrase", and "four-character idiomatic compound". It is equivalent to the Chinese chengyu.
Definition and classification
The definition of yojijukugo is somewhat murky since the Japanese word jukugo (, literally "ripe/mature/popular word") can linguistically mean "compound", "idiom", or "phrase".
Yojijukugo in the broad sense simply means any Japanese compound words consisting of four kanji characters. In the narrow or strict sense, however, the term refers only to four-kanji compounds that have a particular (idiomatic) meaning that cannot be inferred from the meanings of the components that make them up.
There exists a very large number -- perhaps tens of thousands -- of four-character compounds. A great majority of them are those whose meanings can be easily deduced from the literal definition of their parts. These compounds may be called non-idiomatic yojijukugo.
For example, the compound word ? okunaikin'en "no smoking indoors" is a non-idiomatic yojijukugo. It is made up of four characters: ? oku building, ? nai inside, ? kin prohibited, and ? en smoking. Alternatively, it can be regarded as consisting of two common two-character compounds? okunai indoors, and kin'en prohibition of smoking. Either way, the meaning of the compound is clear; there are no idiomatic meanings beyond the literal meanings of its components. Below are a few more examples of non-idiomatic yojijukugo:
- ? daigakuky?iku (daigaku university + ky?iku education)
- ? kanky?akka (kanky? environment + akka deterioration)
- ? nichibeikankei (nichi Japan + bei U.S. + kankei relations)
- ? rekishish?setsu (rekishi history + sh?setsu novel)
- ? sendenk?ka (senden advertisement + k?ka effect).
Note that ? is itself a non-idiomatic four-character phrase.
By contrast, several thousands of these four-character compounds are true idioms in the sense that they have a particular meaning that may not be deduced from the literal meanings of the component words. An example of the highly idiomatic compound is:
- ? umisenyamasen (umi ocean + sen thousand + yama mountain + sen thousand)
"Ocean-thousand, mountain-thousand" means "a sly old fox" or someone who has had all sorts of experience in life so that they can handle, or wiggle out of, any difficult situations through cunning alone. This meaning derives from an old saying that a snake lives in the ocean for a thousand years and in the mountains for another thousand years before it turns into a dragon. Hence a sly, worldly-wise person is referred to as one who has spent "a thousand years in the ocean and another thousand in the mountain".
Many idiomatic yojijukugo were adopted from classical Chinese literature. Other four-character idioms are derived from Buddhist literature and scriptures, old Japanese customs and proverbs, and historical and contemporary Japanese life and social experience. The entries in the published dictionaries of yojijukugo are typically limited to these idiomatic compounds of various origins.
Chinese and Japanese origins of idiomatic yojijukugo
The Japanese yojijukugo are closely related to the Chinese chengyu in that a great many of the former are adopted from the latter and have the same or similar meaning as in Chinese. Many other yojijukugo, however, are Japanese in origin. Some examples of these indigenous Japanese four-character idioms are:
- ? aienkien (uncanny relationship formed by a quirk of fate)
- ? ichigoichie (once-in-a-lifetime experience)
- ? umisenyamasen (sly old dog of much worldly wisdom)
- ? irokoizata (romantic entanglement; love affair)
- ? okamehachimoku (a bystander's vantage point)
- ? temaemiso (singing one's own praises; tooting one's own horn)
- ? futamatag?yaku (double-dealer; timeserver)
Examples of idiomatic yojijukugo
- ? ikkakusenkin (ichi one + kaku grasp + sen thousand + kin gold)
- making a fortune at a stroke. (Origin: Chinese classics)
- ? bijinhakumei (bi beauty + jin person + haku thin + mei life)
- A beautiful woman is destined to die young.; Beauty and fortune seldom go together. (Origin: Chinese classics)
- ? suiseimushi (sui drunken + sei life + mu dreamy + shi death)
- idling one's life away; dreaming away one's life accomplishing nothing significant (Origin: Chinese classics)
- ? y?t?kuniku (y? sheep + t? head + ku dog + niku meat)
- crying wine and selling vinegar; extravagant advertisement (Origin: Chinese classics)
- ? akuin'akka (aku bad/evil + in cause + aku bad/evil + ka effect)
- An evil cause produces an evil effect; Sow evil and reap evil. (Origin: Buddhist scriptures)
- ? eshaj?ri (e meeting + sha person + j? always + ri be separated)
- Every meeting must involve a parting; Those who meet must part. (Origin: Buddhist scriptures)
- (Every encounter is a) once-in-a-lifetime encounter (Origin: Japanese tea ceremony)
- ? issekinich? (ichi one + seki stone + ni two + ch? bird)
- killing two birds with one stone (Origin: English proverb)
- ? itaid?shin (i different + tai body + d? same + shin mind)
- Harmony of mind between two persons; two persons acting in perfect accord
- ? junp?manpan (jun gentle/favorable + p? wind + man full + pan sails)
- smooth sailing with all sails set; everything going smoothly
- ? j?nintoiro (j? ten + nin person + to ten + iro color)
- to each their own; So many people, so many minds.
- ? jigajisan (ji own/self + ga painting + ji self/own + san praise/an inscription written on a painting)
- a painting with an inscription or poem written by the artist themselves (as a non-idiomatic compound)
- singing one's own praises; blowing one's own horn; self-admiration (as an idiomatic compound)
- ? gaden'insui (ga own/self + den field + in draw + sui water)
- self-seeking; feathering one's own nest
- ? yuigadokuson (yui only + ga self + doku alone + son respect/honor)
- I alone am honored; holier-than-thou; Holy am I alone (Origin: Buddhist scriptures)
- ? denk?sekka (den electricity + k? light + seki stone + ka fire)
- as fast as lightning
- ? ichinichiippo (ichi one + nichi day + ichi one + po step)
- one step each day
- In the Crayon Shin-chan manga and anime, yojijukugo are quite frequently used. There is even a compilation of all yojijukugo that are mentioned within the series published by Futabasha.
- ^ Kureyon shinchan no manga yoji jukugo jiten. Usui, Yoshito, 1958-, Eguchi, Naosumi, 1962-, , , 1958-, , , 1962-, Rinrinsha., . Futabasha. 2007. ISBN 9784575299700. OCLC 675203379.CS1 maint: others (link)
- Yojijukugo Jiten - a list of about 3300 yojijukugo spelled in hiragana, romaji, and kanji, and their meanings explained in English.