Japanese Language Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for students, teachers, and linguists wanting to discuss the finer points of the Japanese language. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

In Chinese, usage of 四字熟語 a lot usually demonstrates sophistication and things like political announcements etc that want to sounds powerful and sophisticated use a big load of them. What does using them convey in Japanese? They seem a lot less common. Are they considered "clichés" as English expressions such that "it is raining buckets" or "... is in hot water"? Chinese seems peculiar for treating unoriginal clichés (used appropriately of course) as good style; did this carry over into Japanese?

share|improve this question
I feel like this question borders on being too broad, though I won't vote to close it. – istrasci Jun 3 '13 at 17:34
up vote 7 down vote accepted

I think apt use of 四字熟語 does demonstrate sophistication, just like, it seems, in Chinese. 四字熟語 are taught at the 高校 level, with other parts of the curriculum being 漢文, literature, etc., which alone should tell you something about the perceived status of these "idioms".

The infamous 四字熟語 exam question is:

Complete ◯肉◯食.

with the correct answer being 弱肉強食, not 焼肉定食.

In serious writing, 四字熟語 are analogous to the poignant use of idioms, which one finds in well-written newspapers, for example. Maybe less like "raining buckets" but more like "skate on thin ice"...

share|improve this answer
Hmm. I'm familiar with 弱肉強食 rather than 焼肉定食 since 定食 does not exist in Chinese :P – user54609 Jun 3 '13 at 16:49
That's amusing. – jogloran Jun 4 '13 at 12:54
弱肉強食 is also somewhat of a non-literary expression in Chinese due to its extreme overuse whenever a corrupt official is discovered, some stupid parking fee is discovered, etc etc etc – user54609 Jun 5 '13 at 13:28
For the parking fee example, who is the 弱肉 and who is the 強食? Parking offender and police/state? – Earthliŋ Jun 5 '13 at 14:26
Yes, of course. – user54609 Jun 5 '13 at 20:03

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.