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One of my dictionaries defines this (actually, 一騎当千のつわもの) as

a matchless [an extremely mighty] warrior / a warrior who is strong enough to fight against as many as one thousand men.

My question is why was [当]{あ}てる used as the 「とう」 instead of [倒]{たお}す? Seems like it would have driven the point home a bit more.

(Of course I know speculation is off-topic, so etymological answers are what I'm looking for).

4

Goo dictionary says that 「当千」は「千に当たる」で、千人を敵にできる、千人に匹敵する意.

That is to say, one person has fighting strength as much as one thousand people have. This means 一人が千人に当たる. This 当たる means 相当する and it would be appropriate for "correspond" in English words.

  • そっかぁ... So is the definition in my dictionary wrong then? Fighting against 1,000 mean vs. have the fighting strength of 1,000 mean. – istrasci May 9 '17 at 19:26
  • 語源 dictionary also lists the fighting against definition. 奇妙だなー – istrasci May 9 '17 at 19:31
  • 1
    I think they are almost the same meaning. Goo dictionary also say 千人を敵にできる. It means "to be able to fight against 1000 people". We postulate that one person can fight against one person, "to have the fighting strength of 1,000 people" means "to be able to fight against 1000 people". – Yuuichi Tam May 9 '17 at 19:49
  • @istrasci You could just take it as "match", so that it'll mean both "fight against" and "comparable with". – broccoli forest May 9 '17 at 23:17

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