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I have an assignment on this quote but I just can't seem to find any of the origins of the quote. Its' English translation is "Fall down seven times, stand up eight". If anybody could help and let me know what the origins are it would be a great help to me.

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I thought I remember something from Chinese and it seems indeed that 七転び八起き originally comes from the Chinese saying 七顛八起{しちてんはっき}. (I found it written also as 七転八起).

Now, regarding why the numbers 7 and 8 there are a couple of things to clarify:

  1. Why is the "getting up" number higher? One could argue that you fall seven times.. you will rise seven.
  2. Why specifically 7 and 8?

Regarding point number 1:

Here you can find the following argument: when we were born we could not stand up. Hence you actually start counting from the first time you rise up, with the consequence you have to add +1 to the number of "rising up". I think this is an interesting point of view, and it kinda makes sense. The original quote below:

七転八起(しちてんはっき七顛八起とも書きます)の七と八ですが、どうして、同数ではなく七と八なのでしょうか。

さて、人間は、生まれた時にはまだ立っていません。そのため、まず立つところから始めると考えると起き上がりは、プラス1回です。「七転び八起き」となります。

Regarding point number 2., there are a few explanations. One is in the same link above:

七の由来は、線を切ることを表した文字からきたそうです。横棒を縦棒で切ることを表してあるようです。 七転び八起き。何度も転んだことを断ち切り、新たな一歩を踏み出すという意味合いの言葉のようです。

So basically 7 was chosen because it represents a horizontal line cutting a vertical line embracing the meaning of "cutting away" the many times you have fallen and starting out a with a fresh new step.

Another thing is:

数の七には、「千(多い)」という意味があり、八は末広がりで「幸福」という意味があります。 ここから「七転び八起き」という言葉ができたという説もあります。

That is, the number 7 bears the meaning of 千(多い) (many) while 8 has the meaning of "spreading out like an open fan" (happiness, blessedness).

This other link provides other insights:

語源についてはいくつか説があるようで、一つが「七転八倒」と同じく単に「七も八もたくさんを意味する」程度であるということ(世に生れ出る時に「立つ=起きる」から、倒れる数より起きる数の方が一回分多い、あるいは七回転んで八回目にようやく立ち上がった)、一つが「一転び二起き、三転び四起き、五転び六起き、七転び八起き」と続きの言い回しの中の一部分であるという説、そしてさらには聖書の言葉「正しき者は七回倒れても再び起き上がる(For a righteous man may fall seven times, and rise again)」(Proverbs24:16)(and rise againの部分はbut he gets up againのこともあり)に由来する、とする説もある。どれが真相かは分からない。まさに「神のみぞ知る」というところか。

I think it is interesting here the parallel with the biblical interpretation, although I wonder how much influence that might really have depending on how old this saying is.

PS. Good luck with your assignment.

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  • Ahah well, thank you. Of course if you have something to add to improve the answer feel free to share. – Tommy May 26 '17 at 5:53
  • There are also other Chinese chengyu(?) that have 七 and 八 but I don't understand Chinese so maybe somebody can extract useful information from this post pkucn.com/thread-110587-1-1.html – siikamiika May 27 '17 at 3:35
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In kana and kanji, it's 七転び八起き. 七 = seven, 転び = tumbling, 八 = eight, 起き = standing. All of these are basic and common Japanese words. なな (nana) and や (ya) are kun-readings (i.e. native Japanese readings) of 七 and 八.

This idiom is old, and there seems to be no definitive explanation for why seven and eight were chosen. Some say it's related to Buddhism.

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  • I think the real question is why you get up 8 times; you fell 7 times and then got up all 7 times, so what are you getting up from on the 8th time? – Kurausukun May 26 '17 at 1:40
  • @Kurausukun I posted something about that. – Tommy May 26 '17 at 2:23
  • I tried to find an authoritative reference for the etymology, but all I could find were many random unsourced blog articles or such indistinguishable from personal speculations. That's why I decided not to introduce them at all. – naruto May 26 '17 at 6:01
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Topics relating to this question:

Why is the number of times to get up after having fallen down for seven times counted as eight instead of seven?

  • Opinion 1: Seven and eight are used to express large numbers, not intending to express logical numbers, and seven and eight sound better 語呂{ごろ}がいい than seven and seven when read continuously.
  • Opinion 2: At first, the state before falling down is counted for one time.
    (This interpretation is already written in Tommy's answer)
  • Opinion 3: Under the influence of a proverb 「転{ころ}んでもただでは起{お}きない / 転{ころ}んでもただでは起{お}きぬ」, the last state to get up is counted for two times at a time.
    The meaning of 転{ころ}んでもただでは起{お}きない is as: To learn something even from a mistake. To turn anything into profit. Even if you may fall down many times, each time you get up with picking up something in taking advantage of the opportunity.
    In the case of 七転び八起き, the person gets up with picking up another count except for himself at the last time.
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