本末転倒 (ほんまつてんとう, honmatsu.tentou) indicates when primary objective have been sidelined by secondary objectives. For example, it is 本末転倒 if university students spend a lot of time on working part-time and cannot focus on their studies. This word is also used when the means are overshadowed by the ends. For instance, it is 本末転倒 if you’re obsessed with making a perfect note to prepare for exams but don’t have time to memorise its contents.
As you can see, 本末転倒 consists of the four kanji characters. The first two kanji “本” and “末” indicate “main” and “branch”, respectively. For instance, “本業” means “main work/job” and “末端” or “末尾“ means “end/edge”. The rest “転倒” is a word meaning “fall” or “be inverted”. Therefore, what 本末転倒 means is that the main and secondary things are turned “upside down”.
I started working to go out with my friends a lot, but I’m now too busy working and don’t have time to meet up with them. It is 本末転倒.
It is 本末転倒 if publishing a lot of papers becomes your main objective and you don’t care about what you do in your research.
Synonyms: 主客転倒 (The main and secondary subject or person become inverted)
Synonyms in English: None
Related words and phrases: 転倒 (fall, stumble, become up side down)