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If 物腰 means “(good) manners” and 低い means “low, bad”, how is it possible that 物腰の低い actually means “of good, gentle manners”?

I found this expression in an article on keigo and was surprised that in one sentence, usage of an expression is considered “low in manners”, but at the same time “polite” and “making good impression”.

上司や取引先に対して、「よろしいでしょうか」を使うことで、物腰の低い丁寧な人物として良い印象を与えることができます。

My quick search confirmed the meaning is opposite to I’d expect. But in no dictionary did I find 低い meaning anything other than “low, bad quality, lower grade etc.”, with 最低 being an example of such meanings.

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The culprit there is meaning waist, but also attitude, power and willingness to act by oneself. It is a part of many expressions including “腰が低い” meaning “modest” and ”腰が高い” meaning “arrogant”.

The meaning then extends to 物腰 as an “attitude towards things” too. “物腰が低い” is then “having modest manners”.

Other interesting expressions with 腰 would be:

  • 腰が重い slow in action
  • 腰が軽い hasty
  • 腰を上げる reluctant
  • 腰を入れる resolute
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    The last two are verb phrases and should not be translated as adjectives.
    – aguijonazo
    Nov 11, 2021 at 22:30
  • @aguijonazo Well, Japanese adjectives are very verb-like and verbs can act as attributes, so hence the consistency. But you are right. Thanks for pointing out!
    – Glutexo
    Nov 11, 2021 at 22:37
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    I meant they don't mean what those adjectives mean because they refer to actions.
    – aguijonazo
    Nov 11, 2021 at 22:52
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    I guess aguijonazo's point is that 腰を上げる/腰を入れる does not mean reluctant /_resolute_, but start doing something reluctantly/resolutely.
    – sundowner
    Nov 12, 2021 at 0:40

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