Tag Archives: folk proverb

“Do not rest under a bad three and do not drink bad water” (恶木盗泉)

Original Script : 恶木盗泉

Phonetic (Roman) Script : È mù dào quán

Transliteration : Do Not Rest Under a Bad Tree and Do Not Drink Bad Water

Full Translation : Do not do anything bad that you will be shameful in the future regardless of the situation you are in

Context : 

My informant is a high school student who was born in Denver, Colorado. His family moved to the United States before he was born from mainland China. Even though his first language was technically English, as his family used Chinese at home, he grew as a bilingual student. Here, he is describing an idiom that his grandparents and parents taught him when he was young. He is identified as Z in the dialogue and this piece was collected over a phone call. 

Z : The idiom “do not rest under a bad tree and do not drink bad water” means that you must not do anything that you would be shameful of in the future no matter what situation you are in. You might be in a very tired state and want to rest and drink lots of water for recovery but resting under a bad tree and drinking bad water will influence you in a negative way and you will regret your rash decisions later on. 

Analysis :

This idiom indicates not only that people shouldn’t do anything that will embarrass them later on but also the fact that when a person is tired and desperate, their sense of what is right and wrong might be distorted too. This idiom tells the people that even in those hard times, one must not lose their consciousness and know how to make right choices to prevent the aftermath. 

“3 Cobblers are better than Zhuge Liang” (三臭皮匠葛亮)

Original Script : 三臭皮匠葛亮

Phonetic (Roman) Script : Sān chòu píjiàng gé liàng

Transliteration : 3 Cobblers Are Better Than Zhuge Liang

Full Translation : Two heads are better than one 

Context : 

My informant is a high school student who was born in Denver, Colorado. His family moved to the United States before he was born from mainland China. Even though his first language was technically English, as his family used Chinese at home, he grew as a bilingual student. Here, he is describing a proverb that his grandparents and parents taught him when he was young. He told me that since he couldn’t remember in detail and had to ask his parents again, a lot of the dialogue is summarized. This piece was collected over a phone call. 

The informant started off with who Zhuge Liang is; Zhuge Liang is a very well known Chinese politician and a military strategist that is known for its excellent strategic skills that have led past China to victory in multiple battles. The informant implied how he is the symbol of intelligence and often admired and looked up by people. However, cobblers are jobs that are not always favored and are less significant when compared to a nationally-known military strategist. However, this quote is meant to show how 3 less-significant people can beat Zhuge Liang, who is an individual. 

Analysis :

Zhuge Liang is an admired figure in Chinese society for its intelligence and military strategy. On the other hand, cobblers are considered as an ignorant people when compared to Zhuge Liang. In this proverb, it is implied that no matter how ignorant cobblers are in comparison to Zhuge Liang, when three cobbers come together and think as a whole, Zhuge Liang, he himself as an individual cannot win the cobblers. This shows that more than one person is always better than an individual regardless of their intelligence and educational levels. The comparison to Zhuge Liang also shows how Chinese people admire Zhuge Liang as a smart intelligent person. 

I wanted to add the Korean version of this proverb: “It is better to hold a single piece of white paper together with someone rather than yourself (백지장도 맞들면 낫다)”. While a piece of paper is very light and everyone can simply carry it without any hardships, it is always better to hold it with someone. This can be translated into no matter whether an issue might be easy to handle, it is always better to do it with someone. 

“A pearl necklace on a pig’s neck” (돼지 목에 진주목걸이)

Main Piece : 

“돼지 목에 진주목걸이”

Original Script : 돼지 목에 진주목걸이

Phonetic (Roman) Script : Dwaeji mok-eh jinju mokgul-ee

Transliteration : A pearl necklace on a pig’s neck

Full Translation : One must live within one’s means

Context :

My informant is an adult male who was born in the Gangwon Area of Korea, which is located on the East side of the peninsula. He received Korean education throughout his life and he now works in Korea. Here, he is describing a commonly used proverb that is used in the Korean society. He is identified as S, and I will be identified as E in the dialogue. This piece was collected over a phone call in Korean and was translated into English. 

S : So what do you think what it means by a pearl necklace on a pig’s neck?

E : Maybe that it doesn’t go along well? It doesn’t fit?

S : Basically, yeah. A pig will never wear a pearl necklace and even if it did, it won’t know the value of it, whether it is high or low. This proverb means that one must live within one’s means and know their own value. If one doesn’t live within their ‘range’ but only seeks for valuable objects, they will only look like a pig with a pearl necklace. 

E : Haha, I think that’s a very straightforward explanation of it – a pig with a pearl necklace.

S : It’s supposed to give that direct meaning, I guess.

Analysis :

This proverb shows the difference of a human and an animal and that they have different values for objects. While a human might admire expensive cars and jewelry, an animal would not value those objects but would rather value a good meal. This hints at a humor by comparing two unlikely matters; an expensive pearl necklace and a pig, which is an animal that is usually perceived to be dirty. 

“You hide your head but not your bottom” (頭隠して尻隠さず)

Original Script : 頭隠して尻隠さず

Phonetic (Roman) Script : Atama kakushite shiri kakusazu

Transliteration : You hide your head but not your bottom

Full Translation : You think you have hided your wrongdoings perfectly, but everyone knows that you did it

Context : 

My informant is a high school student who was born in Osaka, Japan. She graduated elementary school in Japan but soon moved to the United States for English education. She still uses Japanese in her home and uses and knows a lot of Japanese proverbs and idioms that are still widely used in Japan. Here, she is describing a well-known Japanese proverb. She is identified as Y, and this piece was collected over a phone call. 

Y : I think I learned this one when I was in middle school. So, “頭 (Atama)” means head in Japanese and “尻 (Shiri)” literally means butt, haha. And “隠す (Kakusu)” is a verb that means to hide. The proverb is directly translated into “you hide your head but not your bottom”. Since the person hiding can’t see what others are doing, the hider thinks that no one knows what he or she has done and acts like they didn’t do anything wrong too. But in fact, everyone knows what’s going on and it’s the hider himself that doesn’t know what’s going on. 

Analysis :

The proverb makes the audience imagine a person hiding its head in a hole or in a corner while exposing its curled-up body completely. Because what they see is darkness in the corner and avoids people’s attention and judgement from it, they think they have kept their mistake undercover and no one knows about it. However, in fact, everyone obviously knows what is going on but just acts like they didn’t see it. This proverb reminded me of a personal memory of mine when I was playing hide-and-seek with a young cousin. She would hide behind the curtains but her leg would be still exposed under the curtain. However, I had to act like I couldn’t find her and ‘lost’ the game because I couldn’t find her in time. She giggled and thought I wasn’t able to find her at all. This proverb can also be translated that the person hiding isn’t smart enough like a young baby to know that everyone knows the truth.

“Eating from the same rice pot” (同じ釜の飯を食う)

Original Script : 同じ釜の飯を食う

Phonetic (Roman) Script : Onaji kamano meshiwo kuu

Transliteration : Eating from the same rice pot

Full Translation : Joining as a new member of a community

Context : 

My informant is a high school student who was born in Osaka, Japan. She graduated elementary school in Japan but soon moved to the United States for English education. She still uses Japanese in her home and uses and knows a lot of Japanese proverbs and idioms that are still widely used in Japan. Here, she is describing a well-known Japanese proverb. She is identified as Y, and this piece was collected over a phone call. 

Y : Basically, eating from the same rice pot indicates that they are sitting in the same space while eating and are familiar with each other. Sharing a meal shows that they are friends and are in the same boat. If you think about it, not a lot of people get to share the rice from a single rice pot; it’s either your family or a person who lives with you. It’s this straight-forward.

Analysis :

This proverb was very easy to understand and personally relatable because there is a Korean version of this proverb. The Korean version of this proverb also translates into “eating from the same rice pot”. I’m not sure where it was first introduced from, but this shows that Asian cultures have a similar understanding of proverbs. Also, I thought it was interesting how it was ‘rice pot’ out of all foods that a person can share; it adds an Asian aspect to it. It also implies how sharing of foods means that they are ‘on the same boat’. 

The sharing of food (or drinks) is also related to the ‘Sakazuki’ ceremony, which is a ceremony of Japanese yakuza (Japanese gang) performs when a new gang member joins in. They share a cup of traditional Japanese alcohol, sake and the sharing of the drink means that the new member is now an official member of the yakuza family; the member must show absolute loyalty to the family and the boss must protect the member under all circumstances. 

A detailed further description of the Sakazuki ceremony and the importance of creating bonds between yakuza members could be found in this article, “Insider Outsider: The Way of the Yakuza” written by Jacob Raz.