Weekly Japanese Idiom: “Souseki-chinryu” — Sore Loser

This week’s yojijukugo is all about people who can’t lose with dignity and grace.

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Losing sucks. We’ve all done it at one time or another, whether it was a poorly played Monopoly game or being falsely accused and ejected in Among Us. But there’s a difference between those who can bow out without a scene and those who choose the souseki-chinryu route: refusing to admit defeat. We’ll be taking a closer look at the latter, for reasons utterly unrelated to political goings-on in the world. 

Souseki-chinryu (漱石枕流)

Meaning: Sore loser who stubbornly refuses to admit being wrong, someone who makes excuses and acts condescendingly despite failing; to have sour grapes

Literal translation and kanji breakdown: By breaking it into two compounds, we get a set of seemingly nonsense: chinryu (枕流) means “to rinse a pillow” and souseki (漱石) to “gargle stones.” If you think it sounds like gibberish, then you’re right. Read the origin story below to find out why. (The same idiom can also be used in reverse, chinryu-souseki (枕流漱石) to mean the same thing.)

Fun Fact: Souseki Natsume is said to have taken his pen name (real name Kinnosuke Natsume) from this idiom. 

Souseki-chinryu: The Origins

If you’ve ever feared that people will remember something stupid you’ve said, then rest assured it will never be as bad as Western Jin Dynasty commander Sun Chu’s gaffe back in the early- to mid-200s. His slip of the tongue has survived almost two millennia.

Sun Chu said to his friend Wang Ji that he wanted to become a hermit. He suggested they “go deep into the mountains and wash our mouths with stone and let the stream be our pillow.” When Wang Ji corrected him — surely he meant, “wash our mouths in the stream and let stones be our pillows” — Sun Chu doubled down. He insisted they would use a stream as a pillow to wash away sinful things they had heard. The stones would be ground into a powder and used as toothpaste, thus they would rinse their mouths with rocks.

Obviously, this was an unconvincing enough argument back then that the mixup is synonymous with being a sore loser who doesn’t back down almost 1,800 years later. Ouch. 

Souseki-chinryu: Related Expressions

  • 潜在意識 Senzai-ishiki One’s subconscious
  • 漫言放語 Mangenhougo Saying whatever one feels, rambling, making careless remarks
  • 珍紛漢紛 Chinpunkanpun Gibberish 
  • 牽強付会 Kenkyoufukai A farfetched argument, forced view, strained idea
  • 逆ギレ Gyakugire Getting angry with someone who is angry with you, snapping back, lashing out even though you’re in the wrong

Using “souseki-chinryu” in a sentence

It’s not a super common expression in either spoken or written language, but it does pop up occasionally.

彼女の言い分は、本当に漱石枕流だ。Kanojo no iibun wa, hontou ni souseki-chinryu da. Her excuses are so lame; she’s such a sore loser.

漱石枕流をしていないよ。本当のことを言っているだけだよ。Souseki-chinryu wo shite inai yo. Honto no koto wo itteru dake dayo. I’m not being a sore loser. I’m just telling it like it is. 

もう漱石枕流はやめた方がいいよ。成長する機会を失ってしまう。Mou souseki-chinryu wa yameta houga ii yo. Seichou suru kikai wo ushinatte shimau. You should top being a sore loser and get over it. You’ll lose your chance to learn from this.


Want more? Follow our weekly Yojijukugo Japanese Idiom series, published every Friday. Learn the meaning of “gyuinbashoku” here, “kachoufugetsu” here and “taifu-ikka” here.

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