Language | WELL SAID

Throw out idioms left and right using ... the Japanese words for left and right!

by Akemi Tanahashi and Hitomi Tashiro

Contributing Writers

O-kyūryō o morau to, migi kara hidari e tsukatte-shimau. (He receives his salary and spends it immediately.)

Situation 1: Ms. Aoyama is consulting about her husband to her senior colleague Ms. Gray.

グレイ: ご主人のお仕事、落ち着いた? 少しは生活費を入れてくれるようになったの?

青山: それが…。彼、お給料をもらうと、右から左へ使ってしまうので、相変わらず私の扶養家族なんです。

Gurei: Go-shujin no o-shigoto, ochitsuita? Sukoshi wa seikatsuhi o irete-kureru yō ni natta no?

Aoyama: Sore ga… Kare, o-kyūryō o morau to, migi kara hidari e tsukatte-shimau node, aikawarazu watashi no fuyō-kazoku nan-desu.

Gray: Has your husband’s work settled down? Has he started to contribute to the living expenses?

Aoyama: On the contrary. He receives his salary and spends it immediately. As expected, he still depends on me.

Japanese has a few expressions that use the nouns 左 (ひだり, left) and 右 (みぎ, right), and the suru-verbs that goes with them. The idiomatic expression 右から左へ (from right to left) indicates that something, especially money, is being spent very quickly (he’s spending money left and right!). Note that Japanese never orders the pair as left to right. According to Chinese tradition, the position of right is higher than that of the left. This notion is also reflected in Japanese terms such as 左遷 (させん), which means demotion in a company.

The expression X(something)でY(person)の右に出(で)る者(もの)はいない, which literally means that in X nobody appears to the right of Y, translates overall as nobody is better at X than Y:

サッカーで中田(なかた)の右に出る者はいない。(Nobody can hold a candle to Nakata in soccer.)

Situation 2: At home, Mrs. Okubo shows a magazine article to her husband.

妻: ねえ、この記事見て。「見栄えが出世を左右する」って書いてあるから、もう少しいいスーツや時計を買ったら?

夫: そんなものに金をかけるくらいなら、温泉にでも行くほうがいいよ。

Tsuma: Nē, kono kiji mite. “Mibae ga shusse o sayū suru”-tte kaite-aru kara, mō sukoshi ii sūtsu ya tokei o kattara?

Otto: Sonna mono ni kane o kakeru kurai nara, onsen ni demo iku hō ga ii yo.

Wife: Hey, look at this article. It says that “appearance will affect success in life,” so what if you bought a slightly better suit or watch?

Husband: If I were to spend around that amount of cash on things like that, I’d be better off going to a hot spring bath or something.

The word 左右 (さゆう, left and right) is made of 左 and 右 and is used in terms such as 左右をよく見(み)てから横断(おうだん)歩道 (ほどう)を渡(わた)りましょう (Cross the crosswalk after carefully looking left and right.)

Additionally, XがYを左右する and XにYが左右される means that X has a strong influence on Y, as seen in the Bonus Dialogue.

Bonus Dialogue: Mr. Sere wants to learn how to play the game of go and asks Mr. Mita for help. Mita then replies.

三田: ぼくは、囲碁(いご)はできないんだ。ああ、ティエンさんに習(なら)うといいよ。うちの会社(かいしゃ)で囲碁といえば、ティエンさんの右に出る者はいないよ。

セレ: ティエンさんって何(なん)でもできるんだね。仕事(しごと)もできるし…。

三田: そうそう、目白(めじろ)さんって、覚(おぼ)えてる?ぼくたちが入社(にゅうしゃ)してすぐどこかに転勤(てんきん)になって行(い)っちゃった人(ひと)。アマチュア囲碁のチャンピオンになったほどの人だけど、のめり込(こ)み過(す)ぎて、仕事がおろそかになって、左遷されたという噂(うわさ)だったなあ。

セレ: えっ、そうなの!? 囲碁のチャンピオンになるような人は頭(あたま)がいいから仕事もできるんじゃない?

三田: うん、すごく頭のいい人だった。問題(もんだい)は、のめり込みすぎたということだな。

セレ: そうか…。趣味(しゅみ)に人生(じんせい)を左右されることもあるんだなあ。だけど、そんなに夢中(むちゅう)になれることが見つかったなんて、ちょっとうらやましいかも。

Mita: I can’t play go. Oh, I got it, learn from Mr. Tien. In our company when it comes to go, there is no one better than Mr. Tien.

Sere: Mr. Tien can do anything, can’t he? He’s excellent at his job, too.

Mita: Yeah, that reminds me, do you remember Mr. Mejiro? He’s the person who got transferred and left soon after we joined the company. He became a champion in amateur go, but he got way too absorbed in it and neglected his job. Rumor has it that he was demoted.

Sere: What, really?! People who become go champions should be smart and able to do their jobs, right?

Mita: Yeah, he was a really smart person. The problem is he was just too absorbed in it.

Sere: I see. Sometimes our lives are strongly influenced by our hobbies. But, I kind of envy that he has found that level of passion.