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The particles in question are てこそ and ば

The sentence I found them in is 競ってこそ花 負けて落ちれば泥. For context, the speaker has just met the listener.

てこそ is odd to understand because the way the sentence is translated and the definition that I searched does not seem to match up.

The sentence is translated to "Surely, if you compete against a flower, you will lose and fall in the mud".

On one hand, this does match up with the definition for こそ which is "for sure". However, てこそ is described as "now that" or "since".

The next particle I have trouble understanding is ば. If and then does not seem to fit here so I am assuming the particle is indicating supposition. Yet, if てこそ does mean "Surely", doesn't ば contradict that?

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  • Where did you get that English translation: "Surely, if you compete against a flower, you will lose and fall in the mud"? May 6, 2023 at 14:20
  • Subtitles I downloaded from Kitsuneko.
    – Lemmy123
    May 6, 2023 at 14:22
  • Actually, my bad, the subtitles are actually hard coded into the episode I downloaded.
    – Lemmy123
    May 6, 2023 at 14:25

1 Answer 1

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A little googling seems to show the full phrase is 「女は競ってこそ花 負けて落ちれば泥」which is from a well-known haiku made popular by the movie The Geisha (陽暉楼).

Since it was originally a haiku, an equally poetic translation would give it justice, but for an easy-to-understand translation, you could say it means "It's precisely because women compete that they become (beautiful) like flowers, and if they lose, they fall into the mud"

The phrase highlights the harsh world of woman and is saying that they shine most when competing with each other, but if they lose, they end up in disgrace or humiliation.

As for grammar, there is nothing unusual or tricky about it. It's just the translation that seems to have tripped you up. There are many ways to translate something, and some are better than others (and some are just wrong).

The てこそ here is just a verb in the て-form + koso which means something like "precisely because of" as explained here.

The ば is a conditional form of a verb that means "if" or "when" explained here.

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