Thursday, August 18, 2005

The story of the lying sheep

There is a Chinese character that is written as 詳(상), which means "detailed." The character is a combination of two other characters, 言(언), which means "talk," and 羊(양), which means "sheep." The combination of the characters seems to be referring to "a talking sheep," but what does a talking sheep have to do with the meaning "detailed"? I have no idea, but after a little research, I have found another meaning for 詳 that makes a little more sense to me.

The character 詳 actually has two pronunciations, 상 and 양. The 상 pronunciation carries the meaning "detailed," as I meantioned above, but the 양 pronunciation carries the meaning "lie," as in 거짓말. Though I cannot think of any example where the 양 pronunciation is used, I remember hearing a story a long time ago that may explain why the 詳 character also has the meaning of "lie." However, the story I heard did not take place in China, but somewhere in the United States during the Old West, when indians still roamed the plains.

Here is the story:

A cowboy rides into an indian village after crossing the desert. He and his horse are thirsty. The cowboy rides up to a teepee, where an old indian is sitting out in front with a horse, a dog, and a sheep. The cowboy stops and asks the old indian if he can get a drink of water at his well. The old indian nods his head, "yes."

While the cowboy is drinking, he looks over at the dog lying behind the old indian and asks the indian, "Do you mind if I talk to your dog?"

The old indian replies, "Dog no talk."

Ignoring the indian, the cowboy looks at the dog and asks, "How are ya?"

The dog answers, "Fine."

The indian is shocked because he had never heard his dog talk before.

The cowboy then asks the dog, "How does your master treat you?"

The dog replies, "He is good to me. He feeds me everyday, and lets me sleep in the teepee when it rains. He even takes me down to the river to play sometimes."

The old indian is amazed. He can hardly believe that he had been living with a talking dog all these years.

Then the cowboy looks at the old indian and asks, "Do you mind if I talk to your horse?"

The old indian replies, "Horse no talk."

The cowboy looks at the horse and says, "Howdy?" The horse also replies with "howdy."

Again, the old indian is amazed to hear his horse talk.

The cowboy asks the horse, "How does your master treat you?"

The horse replies, "He is very good to me. He only rides me two or three times a week, and he always wipes me down afterwards. Every morning he takes me to a nearby field where the grass is especially tasty. Yes, he is very good to me."

The old indian is flabbergasted because he never knew that he had a talking horse.

Then the cowboy looks at the old indian and asks, "Mind if I talk to your sheep?"

The old indian sits up straight, folds his arms across his chest, and says in a very clear, stern voice, "Sheep lie."

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