Idioms Gallery
Blog archive at the bottom of the page.

Language Gallery by Sharon Hahn Darlin

Nov 9, 2009

改过自新 a new beginning

改 (change) 过 (over) 自 (self) 新 (new)

The best thing about the future is that it comes only one day at a time.” -- Abraham Lincoln

A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step. -- Lao Tzu

To infinity and beyond. - Buzz Lightyear

photo: Cross Country Kitties

Nov 3, 2009

哀而不傷 sad but not distressing

哀 (sad) 而 (yet) 不 (not) 傷 (wound)

(哀而不伤 simplified)

Sad. Not crying yet. I guess I'm tough.

Sep 9, 2009

森羅萬象 the Universe in its vast variety

NASA photos from the repaired Hubble Space Telescope released today, 09/09/09

森 (forest) 羅 (net) 萬 (10,000) 象 (form)

This is a Buddhist term. On this page from the Dictionary of Chinese Buddhist terms: with Sanskrit and English Equivalents and a Sanskrit-Pali Index
by William Edward Soothill & Lewis Hodous, 森羅萬象 is defined as "the myriad forms dense and close, i.e. the universe." 森羅萬象卽法身, "the universe in its vast variety is the Dharma-kaya, or Buddha-body; in the esoteric school it is the Vairocana-body."

卽 (i.e.) (Dharma) 身 (body)

Sep 7, 2009

紅爐點雪 snow flakes into a burning furnace

紅 (red) 爐 (furnace) 點 (dot) 雪 (snow)

This is a touching image. Little flakes of snow flying into a blazing furnace. Little melting snow droplets are no matches for the fire. They immediately sizzle into steam and evaporate.

I don't know how to interpret this idiom composed of such vivid characters. Who is the main character, the coal or the snow? Is the snow naïve or willful? Water doesn't actually mix with fire. Perhaps it's a story about transcendence.
Perhaps it's a story about a blessing in disguise.

Sep 5, 2009

苦盡甘來 after suffering comes sweet reward

苦 (bitter) 盡(dissipate) 甘 (sweet) 來 (come)

Often, things seem hopeless, and human endurance approaches a personal limit. You'll be all right, this saying reassures you. After the requisite suffering, there's bound to be something sweet waiting for you.

If it doesn't happen... well, who says you have to be happy all the time?

Sep 2, 2009

空無所有 utterly destitute

空 (empty) 無 (nothing) 所 (place) 有 (exist)
Simplified, 空无所有

所有 possess

Sometimes, in the game of life, you are left without two sticks to rub together. It may not be a bad thing if it's temporary, if you can afford to wait cheerfully. It can most certainly be liberating.

What does it mean to "possess" anyway?
Have (有) a place (所)?

A brush can only be a proper brush when it's placed in the hands of a skilled calligrapher. A blade owned by a good swordsman, an axe by an experienced lumberjack, a Stradivarius by a true artist. Yes, they can own it.

Possession is also an abstract idea, like numbers written on a check. A check is a corporeal object, yet when a contract is not kept, something (有) simply turns into nothing (無). Even if you "own" billions, if you have no true power to move people, you are merely a fund manager slavishly working to guard all that wealth. Until you do not feel the need to tie down something you feel entitled to, it will remain wishful thinking, not true possession.

Then again, i
t is certainly possible to be on top of the world, feel as if you own it, even as you appear utterly destitute. Funny how that works.

Jul 29, 2009

武陵桃源 Never Never Land of Peaches

武 (force) 陵 (knoll) 桃 (peach) 源 (source) Utopia

Being entertained by fantasy girls is a grand Eastern tradition. People have sought out this form of Utopia in the form of 요정 or 芸者屋 where peachy girls cater to your every whim, while you sponge up several bottles of aqua vitae. These establishments have generally been hidden from public scrutiny, multiplying the intrigue. Now a swing toward an eye-catching trend makes this mysterious world a hair more visible: Emphasis on big hair. BIG HAIR. Will we see more creative twists on this traditional pastime?

photos Old Photos of Japan, Marvelous Entertainment Inc.,Vogue Korea, 신윤복,

Jun 20, 2009

人口膾炙 on everyone's lips

人 (people) 口 (mouth) 膾 (raw meat/fish) 炙 (roast)
人口 (population) 膾炙 (talked about)

Do you like being roasted?

Knowing that celebrity can become a prison, you may still think it is a cool idea.


The best kind of fame must be one where you can be anonymous when you want to be, yet you are openly admired when you choose to be.

Happiness(?) option 1: Fame, money, power vs.
Happiness option 2: Privacy, freedom, hope

Striving to be Plato's man of moderation is a delicate balance.

Celebrity is alluring, isn't it. Well. By all means, go for option #1. Expect fish toast.

"Moderation is a fatal thing. Nothing succeeds like excess." -Oscar Wilde

Jun 11, 2009

同心同德 of the same mind

同 (together) 心 (mind) 同 (together) 德 (goodness)

Are we doomed(?) to be irrevocably and meaningfully linked, connected, joined with the entire globe?

Harold and Maude becomes 哈羅德和莫德 in Chinese. As luck would have it, (perhaps a joyful scheme?) both characters are given the character
("dé " in Mandarin) meaning virtue, godliness, moral code.
(Harold) 和 (and) 莫 (Maude)

Maude: Vice, virtue. It's best not to be too moral. You cheat yourself out of too much
life. Aim above morality. If you apply that to life, then you're bound to live life fully.

Harold: I haven't lived. I've died a few times.

Maude: You know, at one time, I used to break into pet shops to liberate the canaries. But I decided that was an idea way before its time. Zoos are full, prisons are overflowing. Oh my, how the world still dearly loves a cage.

Maude: Dreyfus once wrote from Devil's Island that he would see the most glorious birds. Many years later in Brittany he realized they had only been seagulls. For me they will always be
glorious birds.
taken with iPhone by Sharon Hahn Darlin, Mountain View Cemetery, Oakland, California