Japanese Proverb: The bottle has a mouth.


by Greg Beck

Today’s Topic: 諺 / ことわざ / Proverb
Kanji: 徳利に口あり
Kana: とっくりにくちあり
Translation: The bottle has a mouth.

This is a great play on words. Of course, all bottles have mouths, but a とっくり is an old name for a sake bottle and the “mouth” does not really refer to the bottle. This proverb is about good old “social lubrication,” and you could use this when your normally calm, sound co-worker suddenly says something outrageous to you at an office party. I would follow it up with a good solid “ね!” (or “のぅ!” if you like the Hiroshima dialect), but be aware that you are rather bluntly stating someone has had too much to drink and are running off at the mouth. Since Japanese culture is always concerned with saving face (and specifically with not saying anything that would cause others to lose face) you might want to wait until you’ve truly been insulted, or with some clear, sarcastic intonation so everyone knows you don’t mean what you’re saying, and you just want to get a rise out of them (which is typical behavior for a “well oiled” Japanese office party after all…).

Questions? Comments? Even better, if you see a chance to bust this one out, I’d love to hear the story afterward. Consider this your homework, and an excuse to drink on a weeknight!