Drawing Legs on a Snake

“This is translated by me and is usually in Chinese. Basically, there is this contest for who can draw the best snake. One guy finishes really quickly and draws a beautiful snake. The others are still working on their snake. He’s bored, so he decides to add legs to his snake to embellish it. Afterwards, when they decide to choose on a winner, his is not chosen, because even though he probably would have won if he didn’t add legs to the snake, they say that because he drew legs onto his snake, it is no longer a snake anymore. Moral of the story is that sometimes doing too much or embellishing…etcetera, can be detrimental. More is not always better.”

The informant is a student at USC who is majoring in Biology and Psychology and planning to enter medical school in the Fall of 2012. A big part of her driving force has been the morals she was taught as a little girl. Being part of a Chinese school during her early childhood has allowed her to understand the customs and beliefs that are unique to that culture. She indicated that she constantly refers to this proverb about drawing legs on snake when she notices that she is doing excessive work to perform a task (e.g studying for a test). In her perspective, the proverb that was provided is meant to illustrate that “sometimes doing too much work or extra work is bad.”

One restriction is that the informant could not recite the proverb/saying in Mandarin, because she could not remember how it was exactly recited. The informant provided a translated version in English.

The Chinese proverb that the informant provided seems to follow the principle, “other things being equal, a simpler explanation is better than a more complex one.” (Occam’s Razor) It seems that most people find it fulfilling to be able to do things in the most complex way in order to establish their status in society, which can often complicate things. For instance, the latter situation could be observed in college writing. When composing a paper, many students would find that complicating the speech in which they write may help validate how much they know. However, in most instances, what achieves the better outcome runs contrary to this notion. That is, explaining things in the most simplest of ways can actually convey meaning more effectively. Going back to the writing example, this can be achieved by using basic writing conventions and active speech.