Saturday, January 31, 2015

What does 見他失便, 便說他過 mean?

In the old Chinese text "Tractate of the Most High One on Actions and Consequences (太上感應篇)," there is a list of several actions that are considered wicked. Among those actions was listed the following:


(()()()便(), 便()()()()

  • 見 -- to see
  • 他 -- another; others
  • 失 -- to lose
  • 便 -- to be comfortable; urine, feces; then
  • 說 -- to speak
  • 過 -- to pass; mistake

"[Someone who] sees () another () lose () [control of his] urine or feces (便) [and] then (便) speaks () [to] others () [about] the mistake ()."


I have seen 失便 (실편) translated as "lose convenience" or "to be in temporary difficulties," but that does not make sense to me. I think the intended meaning was "lose control of one's bladder or bowels," which would mean it should be pronounced in Korean as 실변 since 便 is pronounced as either 편 or 변 depending on its intended meaning. I am sure that even in old China people pooped or peed their pants every once in a while, especially many of the older people who probably suffered from fecal or urinary incontinence. Consider the following sentence from the medical text 奇效良方:

失便 病患不覺, 大小便自出者, 乃是大小腸無氣也, 後日必死, 慎勿刺之.

Besides, if a person told others that someone accidentally peed or pooped his pants, that person would be wicked, indeed.

Friday, January 30, 2015

How do you translate 祭虎以爲神 into English?



  • 祭 (제) -- to sacrifice
  • 虎 (호) -- tiger
  • 以 (이) -- to take
  • 爲 (위) -- to be
  • 神 (신) -- god

Sacrifice () [to] the tiger () [and] take [it] () to be () a god ().


  + N1 + + N2" is used when you want to say “take N1 to be N2,” where N1 and N2 are two different nouns. For example, 以虎爲神 would translate as “take () the tiger () to be () a god (),” which could also be translated as “regard (以) the tiger (虎) as (爲) a god (神).” However, in the sentence here there was no N1 between and because (the tiger) had already been mentioned in the previous clause that said "sacrifice () [to] the tiger ()," so the pronoun (it) was used instead to refer back to the tiger.

Now you might be wondering where the
之 is? Well, one of the more interesting grammar rules in liiterary Chinese is that it does not allow you to write a after , so when we translate 以爲, we just have to assume there is a between the two characters. Therefore, 以爲 can be translated as “take it () to be ()” or “regard it () as ().” If the preceding noun were plural, then, of course, it would translate as “take them () to be ()” or “regard them () as ().”

Thursday, January 29, 2015

How should you see good? How should you hear evil?

Today I came across the following Chinese expression that I thought was clever enough to post.
見善如渴, 聞惡如聾
견선여갈, 문악여롱

"See good as if thirsty; hear evil as if deaf."

See (見) good (善) as if (如) thirsty (渴); hear (聞) evil (惡) as if (如) deaf (聾).

Saturday, January 24, 2015

How can you slow down aging?

一笑一少, 一怒一老
일소일소, 일로일로
약간 웃으면 약간 젊어지고, 약간 화나면 약간 늙어진다. 
A little (一) laugh (笑), a little (一) younger (少); a little (一) anger (怒), a little (一) older (老).
一 can mean "one" or "a little," which in Korean is 약간.
笑 can mean "smile" or "laugh."
少 can mean "few" or "young."
怒 means "anger."
老 means "old."

Notice the wordplay in the Korean pronunciation. 一怒一老 can also be written as 일노일로, but then you lose some of the wordplay, so I would write it as 일로일로 or 일노일노.

세상사 스무고갯길 좋은날만있을까
이왕이라면웃으며살자 말처럼쉽지 않아도
일소일소 일노일노 얼굴마다 쓰여저
감출수가 없는데 한치앞날모르는것이 인생인것을
그게바로인생인것을 웃다가도 한세상이고
울다가도한세상인데 욕심내봐야 소용없잔아
가지고 갈것 하나없는데

인생사구비구비 길 힘든날만있을까
마음하나를 내려놓는데 말처럼쉽지않아도
일소일소 일노일노 얼굴마다쓰여저 감출수가없는데
한치앞날모르는것이 인생인것을 그게바로 인생인것을
웃다가도 한세상이고 울다가도 한세상인데
욕심내봐야 소용없잖아 가지고갈것하나없는데

일소일소 일노일노 얼굴마다쓰여저 감출수가없는데
한치앞날모르는것이 인생인것을 그게바로 인생인것을
웃다가도 한세상이고 울다가도 한세상인데
욕심내봐야 소용없잖아 가지고갈것하나없는데

Sunday, January 18, 2015

What does 衣欲新, 人欲舊 mean?

Last night I came across the following Chinese expression that I thought was quite clever.
衣欲新, 人欲舊
의욕신, 인욕구  
"[For] clothes (衣), [one] wants (欲) new (新); [for] people (人) [one] wants (欲) friends (舊)."
舊 (구) can mean both "old" or "friend," as in 친구 (親舊), so the writer used 舊 to make a pun since the sentence could also be translated as follows:
"[For] clothes (衣), [one] wants (欲) new (新); [for] people (人) [one] wants (欲) old (舊)."
Here is another clever Chinese expression.

A friend (朋友) is (有) a friend (舊).
Friends (朋友) are (有) old (舊).
Friends (朋友) have (有) friends (舊).
朋友 [means] 有舊.
Concerning the last one, 朋友 (붕우) means 친구 (親舊), which means "friend," but one of the meanings of 有 (유) is  친 (親), so 有舊 (유구) and 親舊 (친구) essentially mean the same thing.