Japanese Idiom 木で鼻をくくる Give a Blunt Answer

Japanese Idiom:

木で鼻をくくる – tie your nose with a tree; to give a blunt answer

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  • ki de hana wo kukuru
  • tie your nose with a tree; to give a blunt answer

Have you ever received a curt reply from someone? Did you feel blown off or even hurt by the rudeness?

Then you can say you were given “ki de hana wo kukutta youna kotae.

This idiom is not widely used in Japan anymore, however it is a fun body-part idiom with an interesting history.

  • 彼は上司に相談してみたが、木で鼻をくくったような返事だった。

  • kare wa joushi ni soudan shite mita ga, ki de hana wo kukutta youna henji data.
  • He reported to his boss but the boss only gave him a blunt answer.

  • 彼はkare wa — he
  • 上司に joushi ni — to his boss
  • 相談してみたが soudan shite mita ga — reported but
  • 木で ki de — by tree
  • hana — nose
  • wo — [object marker]
  • くくった kukutta — tied
  • ような youna — like, as
  • 返事 henji — reply, answer
  • だった datta — was, were

Other info (etymology 語源, more examples, usage notes)

Tie your nose with a tree… 

This is used when someone’s curt reply was very cold to you. You’ve already learned that’s what it means, but how can a tree tie your nose? A tree is way too hard… Maybe with softer wood, but it still does not make sense.

This idiom originally was "kokuru the nose with a tree." kokuru means to "to rub." Another rarely used word in modern Japanese. This was misused and changed to kukuru. That corruption of kokuru started the drift from the original meaning.

It seems when Japanese blew their nose long time ago, because the paper was very expensive, they rubbed their noses with wood. The facial expression looked very blunt from the rough wood fibers. Hence, this idiom came about..

Masaya Nagayasu is an accomplished businessman from Osaka. Having moved to California when he was only eleven, he can relate to the struggles of learners of Japanese. That experience led to other overseas opportunities and his current entrepreneurial activities.

After working in Melbourne, Australia for more than 7 years as a Business Planning Manager for a Japanese manufacturer, Mr. Nagayasu moved back to Osaka and began his own businesses helping the Japanese business world interact with the English speaking world.

Mr. Nagayasu is now a marketing consultant for traditional Japanese craft makers (Excellent Products in Kansai: http://www.epik-mci.com/ ) and a business development manager for overseas businesses (Osaka Business Partner http://osakarep.com/).

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