Idioms Gallery
Blog archive at the bottom of the page.

Language Gallery by Sharon Hahn Darlin

Aug 29, 2008

無限追求 infinite pursuits ∞

無 (nil) 限 (limit) 追 (chase) 求 (seek)

Jean-Luc Ponty, in his Infinite Pursuit, loops instrumental sequences resembling hypnotic Wii muzak.

In the pop song Du erinnerst mich an Liebe (Ich + Ich), the singer croons,

Da ist ein Weg so weit
- there is a path very far away
Und endet in Unendlichkeit - that ends in infinity
Da ist ein Fluss lang und schön - there is a river long and beautiful
Ich kann das Ende nicht sehen - I cannot see the end

This is the song that never ends,
As it goes on and on my friends.
Some people started singing it, not knowing what it was,
And they'll continue singing it forever just because -> infinitum ∞

Can we create a melody so beautiful it never ceases to move the listener, never fades into nothingness?

Aug 28, 2008

春蛙秋蟬 media chatter

春 (spring) 蛙 (frog) 秋 (autumn) 蟬 (cicada)

An anagram of Obama-Biden happens to be "nabob media".

There's a Vice President we think of when we hear the words nabob and media together. Aided by William Safire, Spiro Agnew also derided the press as "hopeless, hysterical hypochondriacs of history".

Judging by the fervor emanating from the Denver Democratic convention, it seems likely team Obama will make it after all.

春蛙秋蟬 will happily continue, no matter what.

Nattering nabobs of negativism.
Prattling peons of positivism.

Aug 26, 2008

東問西答 non sequitur

東 (east) 問 (ask) 西 (west) 答 (answer)
or 問東答西, 問 (ask) 東 (east) 答 (answer)
西 (west)

"...that after eight weeks of induction into the elements of Political Economy, she had only yesterday been set right by a prattler three feet high, for returning to the ques
tion, ‘What is the first principle of this science?’ the absurd answer, ‘To do unto others as I would that they should do unto me.’" -from Hard Times by Charles Dickens

"If the shareholders of The New York Times ever wonder why the paper's ad revenue is plummeting and its share price tanking, they need look no further than the hysterical reaction of the paper's editors to any slight, real or imagined, against their preferred candidate." -John McCain's spokesperson

What did the dead man walking tell himself?
Go west, young man.
Now, it wasn't a 東問西答, was it.

Aug 25, 2008

山戰水戰 through hell and high water

山 (mountain) 戰 (war) 水 (water) 戰 (war)

So, you've been through it all.
And you've come out on top.

“It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves."
- Edmund Hillary

Aug 21, 2008

韜光養晦 humility

韜 (sheath) 光 (light) 養 (nurture) 晦 (dark)

This is a concept prized in the East. Sometimes you wonder if the West, especially America, has ever heard of it. "Hiding your light under a bushel" merely suggests timidity.

Often, it doesn't hurt to appear dim in order to get to where you want.
Deng Xiaoping knew how to dim his lights. It was his foreign policy mantra, something along the line of "hide your full capacity, bide your time..." It worked, don't you think?

I detect an unlikely parallel between this pioneering Chinese market socialist and Barack Obama. Coming from opposite directions, from entirely different circumstances, yet heading to a similiar goal.

Aug 11, 2008

背水之陣 fight with back against the wall (of water)

背 (back) 水 (water) 之 ('s) 陣 (troop formation)

Where are the Russian-Georgian battlefronts? Two prominent natural features catch one's eye. The Greater Caucasus mountain range and the Black Sea. (The Lesser Caucasus is less conspicuous.)

Georgia-Russia Conflict Moves to the Black Sea

"Russia also sent naval vessels to patrol off Georgia's Black Sea coast, but denied today that the move was aimed at establishing a blockade." August 10, 2008

Russia cuts sea links with Georgia

"Sea links between Georgia's Black Sea port of Batumi and Russia's Sochi port have been cut, the deputy head of the Russian Black Sea port said on Monday." August 11, 2008

Georgians are fighting for their lives. Is it a desperate, determined, dead-end 背水之陣 situation?

Aug 10, 2008

和而不同 be harmonious yet true to oneself

和 (harmony) 而 (and) 不 (not) 同 (sameness)

The character was proudly displayed during the impressive opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics.
Harmony, not sameness, is the value wise men have always prized. In this world, you have to coexist with people you don't agree with, religiously, politically, philosophically.

Clownfish not only gladly live with sea anemones, they thrive in their forests. A symbiotic relationship is arguably a more fruitful adventure than sharing the world with your twins.

No need to be a yes man. No need to imitate.

Ultimately, we're all in the same boat.

Steer it accordantly, your way.

Aug 8, 2008

七*转八起 get up and try for the 8th time

*In honor of the Beijing Olympics, I am including a single simplified character, , although I am a traditionalist (when it comes to characters). Simplified characters are generally ugly. Sigh. This particular one looks sort of cool, the slant reminding you of that new modern CCTV building (China Central Television, by Rem Koolhaas).

What, the building looks more like
八? Well, that, too. An elegant classic, this traditional character never needed to be tinkered with.

七 (seven) * (turn) 八 (eight) 起 (rise)
, as in 天旋地轉, is the traditional version of *.)

So you spin out seven times. Big deal.
Just do it well the eighth time, you hear, athletes?

Alternate versions:
七転八起 (Japanese) with
(same as )
七顚八起 (Korean) with (fall)

Chinese preference for number 8 is legendary.

二零零八年八月八日八点八分 (2008. 08.08. 08:08)


Aug 7, 2008

誇大妄想 delusions of grandeur

誇 (boast) 大 (big) (senseless) 想 (thought)

In Anthrax Scientist’s E-Mail, Hints of Delusions
New York Times, August 6, 2008

"These e-mail messages and dozens of others are a central element in the case the Federal Bureau of Investigation laid out on Wednesday against the man they say is responsible for the anthrax attacks that killed five people and panicked the country. They provide glimpses into the personality of a man obsessed with a sorority that he first encountered while an undergraduate, asserting in an e-mail message that the women’s group was waging a “fatwah” against him."

"Dr. Ivins composed poems — scripted to the nursery rhymes “Hickory Dickory Dock” and “I’m a Little Teapot” — about having two personalities. And he went on what he called “mindless drives” to mail gifts and letters anonymously, the document said, and then “set back the odometer in his car” to fool his wife."


Character has misogynistic roots.
It depicts a woman crouching, destroyed and lost, off the right path.

妄想 delusions
被毒妄想 delusions of being poisoned
被害妄想 delusions of being victimized

Aug 6, 2008

凸鼻凹目 well-defined features

凸 (protruding) 鼻 (nose)
凹 (deep-set) 目 (eyes)

Literal enough?

凹凸 uneven, as in "the road is uneven".

凹鏡 or 凹面鏡 concave mirror

凸鏡 or 凸面鏡 convex mirror

凹版 intaglio/gravure printing plate

People do use the characters 凸 and 凹 to describe something other than nose or eyes.

What could those possibly be??

As they would say in Hong Kong, yau mou gau cho a ("you've gotta be kidding me").

Yes. I said yes.

Aug 5, 2008

錦上添花 icing on the cake

錦 (silk) 上 (atop) 添 (add) 花 (flower)

Definition of perfection never seems perfect.

"one that possesses that of which, by its nature, it is capable." - Thomas Aquinas

"that which lacks nothing and to which nothing can be added." - Daniele Barbaro

This is a big topic. Are we talking aesthetics, for instance? You shouldn't mess with your absolutely exquisite perfection, but if something you have the good fortune to appreciate appears to get even better with the addition of an accessory, more power to you.

has the grass top (=)

indicates the sound, which is hua or ka in many Asian languages.

Aug 4, 2008

亢龍有悔 tough stay at the top

亢 (lofty) 龍 (dragon) 有 (have) 悔 (regret)

What's next once you become an emperor?

An emperor is symbolized by a dragon. You know, the creature with a tiger's head, a serpent's body, an eagle's talons, and a stag's antlers.

潛龍 the submerged pond dragon waits for its chance as it accumulates wisdom

飛龍 the flying dragon proceeds to come, see and conquer

亢龍 the dragon at the zenith

Once the summit is conquered, it is possible for the dragon to regret climbing to such a lofty height in the first place. But naturally it will not wish to descend back to the ground, so staying up with continued fulfillment, with no regrets, becomes the real challenge.