Translating the Iroha Karuta 5: Don’t Break Your Bones For Nowt!

Look at that bloke trying to catch a scroll in the wind! He’s busting a gut trying to catch it, but all he gets for his efforts is exhaustion:

Angel Playing Cards Iroha Karuta for “Ho”

Take another look at that bloke. With his eyes fixed on the scroll he’s totally unaware that he’s about to break a few bones charging over a cliff…

Have you ever felt found yourself on a wild goose chase that gained you nothing but exhaustion for your efforts?

If so, you can probably identify with the fifth Japanese proverb in the “Iroha Karuta” series that I posted on Liketu the other day:

The Japanese goes like this:

“Hone-ori zon no kutabire mouke”

A word for word translation sounds really weird: Bone-folding (i.e. breaking) loss’s exhaustion gain/profit.

What it means is something like this: A bone-breaking (effort) is expended (lost) and the only “gain” is exhaustion.

One way to translate it would be to find a “dynamic equivalent” for “bone-breaking loss” in English and I feel that “a busted gut” is quite a good equivalent:

A busted gut for nothing but exhaustion.

However, I decided to turn it into a full sentence like this:

“Wasted effort brings nothing but exhaustion.”

A more radical approach would be to take what you suppose to be the “intended message” – in this case, a warning against wasting your effort on nothing – and going for something like the title to this blog post:

“Don’t break your bones for nowt”

or even,

“Don’t bust a gut for nowt.”

Which translation do you prefer?

The Daiso Illustration

I think the guy chasing the scroll in the Angel Playing Cards set offers a better illustration of the proverb than the “Daiso” (dime store) version of a boy who’s exhausted himself searching for a four-leaf clover:

Daiso Iroha Karuta for “Ho”

In the Daiso illustration the boy has found a four leaf clover but far from bringing good luck, it has only brought exhaustion. Someone, possibly his mother, is waving a hand at him and saying, “mou ii!” (“That’s enough!”) as his efforts have got completely out of proportion to any value or sense of satisfaction he might gain by finding a four leaf clover.


David Hurley