At some point I found that 手を貸す both literally and figuratively means 'to lend a hand' - is the resemblance a coincidence?


There are a lot of metaphors in common around the world. This is a good example of one such metaphor - the extension is quite logical (give help > give a hand (to help) > lend a hand), and it wouldn't surprise me to find many more examples of similar metaphors around the world.

There are others that are less common, such as Japanese's 猫をかぶる - the idea of 'cat' isn't cross-culturally connected with 'niceness', so the metaphor is relatively unique. (Compare English 'a wolf in sheep's clothing' for the same idea.)

A good place to start reading about these, if you're interested, is Lakoff and Johnson's famous Metaphors We Live By, a good introduction to the roles and mechanics of metaphors in language and culture.

| improve this answer | |
  • 1
    Sounds plausible. But if I remember correctly, the idiom 一石二鳥 turns out to be a calque from English, so stronger evidence that 手を貸す is not a calque might involve showing it was attested in earlier stages of the language. – jogloran Jun 21 '15 at 8:49
  • Note that there is also the idiom 手{て}を借{か}りる, "to borrow a hand". – Eiríkr Útlendi Jun 21 '15 at 20:28
  • This may sound nit-picking, but "a wolf in sheep's clothing" is not English but Koine Greek (or Aramean if that is really what Jesus remarked, as it is from 7:15 of the Gospel according to Matthew.) And I think 猫をかぶる is somewhat less "serious" than "a wolf in sheep's clothing." – eltonjohn Jun 22 '15 at 2:28

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

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