Japanese Expression Highlight: 「水を得た魚 」(mizu wo eta sakana)

By | January 3, 2018

The other day when I was working away at writing a new blog post, I was told:

  • 君、水を得た魚だね (kimi, mizu wo eta sakana da ne)

I admit I was a little confused when I hard this. So what does it mean?

First, let’s look at the words one by one:

  • 水 (mizu): water
  • 得た (eta): past tense of the verb 得る (eru) which means ‘to obtain’
  • 魚 (sakana): fish

So a rough translation of the original phrase above would be:

  • You’re a fish who has obtained water.

This can be expressed more naturally, but less literally, as “You’re a fish in water”.

Now let’s look at the definition in Dictionary Goo:

その人に合った場で生き生きと活躍するようすのたとえ

This roughly translates to:

A metaphor which describes the state of a person who is energetically doing something in a place that suits them well.

Putting this together, it basically means that I looked like I was doing something that I really enjoyed and was just right for me (or you could say I was in my element). After writing over 500 articles on this blog, I think that’s a very apt description of me writing blog posts (:

It’s important to note that this expression is often used in the form “水を得た魚のよう”, which literally means “like a fish who obtained water”. Also, it seems that the kanji 魚 here is technically (historically) read as “uo”, however the “sakana” reading has gained popularity in recent years.

It’s interesting to note that in English we have the inverse expression “a fish out of water” which means the opposite thing: someone who is in an unfamiliar, uncomfortable place.

While we are talking about fish and water, I’d like to mention the word すいすい (suisui) which is often used to describe something (like a fish) swimming smoothly or quickly through water. For example,

  • 魚がたくさんすいすいと泳いでいる (sakana ga takusan suisui to oyide iru)
  • Many fish are swimming quickly.

However, it also is used to express something more abstract, like a project or task, going smoothly. (This brings to mind the English word “swimmingly”)

  • 新しいプロジェクトはスイスイと進んでおります (atarashii purojekuto wa suisui to susunde orimasu)
  • The new project is proceeding along smoothly.

Being an island nation, I guess it’s no surprise Japanese has many expressions related to fish and the sea.

 

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2 thoughts on “Japanese Expression Highlight: 「水を得た魚 」(mizu wo eta sakana)

  1. sprachlust

    Great expression. I’m a native Korean speaker, and we have a similar expression that goes ‘물 만난 물고기’.

    물 = water
    만난 = met
    물고기 = fish

    It literally means “fish that has met water”.

    As with ‘水を得た魚だね’, I think an apt English translation is ‘to be in one’s element’.

    Cheers

    Reply
    1. locksleyu Post author

      Thanks for the comment. I agree “to be in one’s element” is a great translation, and I’ve added that to the article.

      Reply

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