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I'm having trouble understanding the vocabulary and grammar of this phrase. It's from Attack on Titan S4E26 (minute 10:50 on Hulu, E85 minute 10:30 on Crunchyroll) though it's probably not a spoiler.

A character is told that they can sit this one out and not participate in the next fight. They're in a dilemma. Kill friends and save the world, or let others do the killing for you. This is how they respond:

断ります。手も汚さず正しくあろうとするなんて

And this is my translation:

断ります 【ことわります】 - I refuse

手も 【ても】- hand also

汚さず 【よごさず】 - to make dirty, to disgrace (update from the answer - this means "to not make dirty")

正しく 【ただしく】 - righteously

あろう - to be

と - and

する - do / to try to do

なんて - like that

The official translation says:

I refuse. I won't stand by with clean hands.

But it doesn't really capture the dirty-righteous part. And I don't understand how this translation fits. Aside from the initial refusal, is there a refusal in the following phrase? Is the Japanese text an idiom?

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    The official translation is shit. 手を汚す is an idiom.
    – Jimmy Yang
    Mar 24 at 2:32
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    @JimmyYang This official translation seems okay to me. The character is willing to taint their hands.
    – naruto
    Mar 24 at 4:35
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    @naruto "I won't stand by with clean hands" may more or less capture the meaning but it certainly isn't idiomatic English. As a native English speaker I have to stop and think about what that sentence might mean. Mar 24 at 19:26
  • I can imagine an argument for making the translation better (though I personally don't think I'd be bothered by the wording), but that's pretty far away from it being "shit."
    – Leebo
    Mar 25 at 6:21

1 Answer 1

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That sentence is inverted. The version in the normal order would be something like this.

手も汚さず正しくあろうとするなんて(ことは)断ります。

手も汚さず means without getting even my hands dirty. The sense of “even” is added by も. Without it, the phrase would be 手を汚さず. It is used figuratively here, of course. The grammar point here is [V ない-stem]-ず, which is usually translated as “without V-ing”.

正しくあろうとする means to try or strive to be righteous. It matches the construction [V volitional form]-とする, which is usually translated as “try to V”.

So, what the speaker refuses is, literally, something like striving to be righteous without getting even their hands dirty. The official translation conveys the “dirty” part but from the opposite angle because 汚す is used in a negative form anyways. The “righteous” part seems to be missing, indeed. It might have added the adverb “righteously,” although I don’t know how natural that would sound in English.

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