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Want the cat to lend a paw?: handy Japanese phrases with ‘te’

by and

Special To The Japan Times

O-sake-o nomu-to abare-dashite, te-ga tsukerarenaku-naru-n-desu. (Once he drinks alcohol, he starts acting violently and no one can stop him.)

Situation 1: In a restaurant after work, Ms. Aoyama is getting advice from senior colleague Ms. Gray about her love life.

青山:彼、ふだんはやさしいんですけど、お酒を飲むと暴れ 出して、手が付けられなくなるんです。

グレイ:まるでジキルとハイドねえ。

Aoyama: Kare, fudan-wa yasashii-n-desu-kedo, o-sake-o nomu-to abare-dashite, te-ga tsukerarenaku-naru-n-desu.

Gurei: Maru-de Jikiru-to Haido-nē.

Aoyama: He’s usually gentle, but once he drinks alcohol, he starts acting violently and no one can stop him.

Gray: Just like Jekyll and Hyde, isn’t he?

Today we will introduce some phrases using the noun 手 (て, hand). X(person)は手がつけられない, a potential-verb phrase, means “no one is able to stop/control X,” as in the sentence above, or as here: 山田(やまだ)さんは、若(わか)いころ、手がつけられないほどの不良 (ふりょう)だったそうだ (I heard that when he was young, Mr. Yamada was a delinquent that no one could control). This phrase is used in the negative form only, never the affirmative. 手をつける, the transitive-verb phrase, means “to start doing,” as in: 首相(しゅ しょう)は行政(ぎょうせい)改革(かいかく)に手をつけるだろう (The prime minister will begin administrative reform). Another meaning is “to use ill-gotten gains,” e.g., とうとう会社(かいしゃ)の金(かね)に手をつけてしまった (In the end, I embezzled money from my firm).

Situation 2: Continued from Situation 1.

青山:私が別れるって言ったら、彼、急にやさしくなって、グッチのバッグをプレゼントしてくれたんです。のど から手が出るほどほしかったけど、がまんして、彼に 投げつけてやりました。

Aoyama: Watashi-ga wakareru-tte ittara, kare, kyū-ni yasashiku-natte, Gutchi-no baggu-o purezento-shite-kureta-n-desu. Nodo-kara te-ga deru-hodo hoshikatta-kedo, gaman-shite, kare-ni nagetsukete-yarimashita.

Aoyama: I said that I’d break up with him, and then he suddenly turned all sweet and gave me a Gucci bag. I wanted it more than anything else, but I controlled myself and threw it back at him.

Ms. Aoyama’s のどから手が出(で)るほど (literally, “so much that my hand came out of my throat”) is a metaphorical phrase meaning that the speaker wants something desperately. In the Bonus Dialogue, you’ll find a similar idiom: ネコの手も借(か)りたいほど 忙(いそが)しい (to be so busy that you want the cat to lend a hand).

Bonus Dialogue: In the morning at work, three colleagues are busy.

田町:課長(かちょう)から頼(たの)まれた書類(しょるい)、もうできた?

三田:いや…。ちょっと難(むずか)しくて、どこから手(て)をつけていいかわからなくて…。

グレイ:えっ、まだ手つかずなの? その書類、午後(ごご)の会議(かいぎ)に使(つか)うって聞(き)いたけど。

三田:え? そんなこと、聞いていないよ。大変(たいへん)だ!田町(たまち)さん、手が空(あ)いたら、手伝(てつだ)ってもらえない?

田町:いいよ。何(なに)をするの?

三田:じゃあ、まず、このフランス語(ご)の資料(しりょう)を 翻訳機(ほんやくき)かけて英語(えいご)にしてから、日本語(にほんご)と英語の要約(ようやく)を作(つく)って。20分(にじゅっぷん)ぐらいでやってくれると助(たす)かる。

田町:うわ、私(わたし)には手に負(お)えないな。グレイさん、SOS!

グレイ:今(いま)、ちょっと手が離(はな)せないんだけど。

田町:私がそっち、代(か)わるから。[ひとりごと]ネコの手も借(か)りたい忙(いそが)しさだけど、ネコはパソコンも 英語もできないから、私たちでがんばらなくちゃ。

Tamachi: Have you finished putting together the documents the boss asked you for?

Mita: No … it’s quite difficult, and l don’t know where to start.

Gray: You haven’t even started yet? I heard that the papers are going to be used in the meeting this afternoon.

Mita: What? I didn’t know that. That’s a serious problem. Will you help me, if you have time?

Tamachi: OK. What should I do?

Mita: Well, first, please translate this French document into English using the translation machine, and then make a summary of it in English and Japanese. If you could finish it in 20 minutes, that would be really helpful.

Tamachi: What? That’s beyond my abilities. Ms. Gray, SOS!

Gray: Sorry, I’m busy right now.

Tamachi: Let’s swap; I’ll do that work. [To herself] We’re so busy the cat should lend a hand, but since cats can’t use a PC or English, we’ll just have to do the best we can.