Word of the Week: ねこ words & phrases

It’s time for Word of the Week again! Last time we looked at a Japanese word or phrase beginning with ‘ni’ (に), and focussed on the phrase ニコニコする (nikoniko suru), which means ‘to smile’. This week I’m looking for a word or phrase beginning with ‘ne’ (ね). A big thank you to everyone who joined in with their suggestions:

Japan Australia suggested ‘neko ni koban’ (猫に小判), ‘to cast pearls before swine’, ‘a really big waste of resources’, ‘pointless’; and ‘negaeri wo utsu’ (寝返りを打つ), ‘to turn over in one’s sleep’ or to ‘double cross’ or ‘change sides’; and Rockin’ suggested ‘nekoze’ (猫背), ‘bent back’, ‘stoop’.

Japan Australia’s suggestion gave me an idea for a little theme for this week’s post…

ねこ words & phrases

(neko = cat)

In Japanese, there are quite a few phrases, sayings or proverbs which involve the word ‘neko’ or ‘cat. Today’s post will look at a few of those, starting with…

‘Neko ni koban’ (猫に小判)

‘Neko ni koban’ is similar to the English phrase ‘to cast pearls before swine’, i.e. to do something pointless or something which is a big waste of resources. The literal translation would be ‘gold coins to a cat’. A ‘koban‘ (小判) was a former Japanese gold coin which was an oval shape. These coins were used during the Edo period (1603 – 1868).

neko ni koban

(Image source)

Next up is…

‘Neko ni matatabi, ojorou ni koban’ (猫にまたたび、御女郎に小判)

Also referring to money, this phrase means ‘give catnip to the cat and save your gold coins for the prostitutes’, or in other words: ‘make effective use of what you have’.

These phrases might not be so commonly used, but there are cat words used in everyday Japanese, too. I remember learning the next one when I was living in Japan…

‘Neko-jita’ (猫舌)

‘Neko-jita’ means ‘cats tongue’, and it is used to describe a person who is particularly sensitive to hot liquids or foods. Interestingly, it only refers to people who are sensitive to the temperature, not spice. One might say: かのじょは猫舌で、お茶をあまり飲まない。(Her tongue is sensitive to heat, so she doesn’t really drink tea.)

cat sticking out tongue


(Image source)

Another great cat word is…

‘Nekoashi’ (猫足)

‘Nekoashi’ means ‘cat feet’, or ‘the act of walking without sound’. You could use the phrase to describe someone who walks very quietly or sneaks around.

This next phrase describes how I’ve been feeling recently…

‘Neko no te mo karitai’ (猫の手も借りたい)

It means ‘I want to borrow even a cat’s hands’. Cat’s ‘hands’ are useless, but I’m so busy that even a cat might be of some use right now!

cat helping me blog

(Image source)

And finally…

‘Neko ga cha o fuku you na’ (猫が茶を吹く)

‘A cat blowing tea, as if too cool it’, or ‘to have a very odd expression on one’s face’.

Cat making a face


(Image source)


Next week’s post will be about a word or phrase beginning with ‘no’ (の), so please leave your suggestions below. The word can be a verb, adjective or expression, but no nouns please! For example, ‘noboru’ (のぼる) meaning ‘to ascend’ would be acceptable, but ‘Nozomi’ (のぞみ), a type of bullet train, would not. I look forward to reading your ideas! (*^_^)v

Word of the Week 2014

6 thoughts on “Word of the Week: ねこ words & phrases

  1. Thanks for using my suggestion and glad I could inspire this weeks post. A few suggestions for next week are:

    Nomimasu (飲みます) Drink
    Nodo ga kawaita (のどが渇いた) To be thirsty


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