Thursday, August 11, 2005

A fascinating Japanese word: "mayutsubamono"

Translated literally, the word mayutsubamono (眉唾物) means "eyebrow spit thing," or "something (mono) that calls for spit (tsuba) on the eyebrows (mayu)." The phrase traces its roots back to the belief in old Japan that rubbing spit on one's eyebrows would protect a person from being deceived by a fox or raccoon dog (tanuki). By extension, mayutsubamono came to mean a dubious claim to be regarded with suspicion.

Incidentally, in the Japan of yore, all sorts of magical powers were ascribed to foxes and other animals deemed crafty. Nowadays such beliefs have all but faded away and exist only in animated films or as the sort of statement that gets an old grandpa laughed at by his grandkids. ("Don't go out at night, or a fox will deceive you!" "Oh, grandpa, give me a break." Or maybe the kid should say, "Grandpa, that's a real mayutsubamono."

—Mellow Monk

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