Chinese idioms are priceless legacies deeply rooted in traditional culture, making Chinese language more powerful, more functional and thus, more fascinating. Like Chinese language, English language also has its own treasure—English idioms are vivid, terse and profoundly connotative. Although, there are many differences between the Chinese language and the English language, some Chinese idioms and English idioms are equivalent in either meaning or form. Let’s share the origins of some of these equivalent idioms to appreciate the quintessence of both languages.
lose the greater for the less
The Chinese idiom “yīn xiǎo shī dà” means “lose the greater for the less”, which originated from a historical story.
During the Spring and Autumn Period(770-476), there was a small vassal state named Qiuyu Kingdom hidden in the mountains and hills. The path to the kingdom was very rugged. Only a few of winding roads were connected to the outside.
The State of Jin was the neighboring state of the Qiuyu Kingdom. As a large feudal state, the King Zhi Bo of the State of Jin had intended to annex the small kingdom for long. And the small kingdom would have been attacked by the powerful state only that it had a geographical advantage.Therefore, Zhi Bo came up with a good idea.
Zhi Bo spent huge sums of money to cast a huge bell, which was even several times wider than the road of the Qiuyu Kingdom. Zhi Bo sent a message to the king of the Qiuyu Kingdom, saying that the huge bell was made as a present to the king and would be sent to the kingdom as soon as possible.
The king of the Qiuyu Kingdom was very pleased to hear that, and ordered his people to widen the road for welcoming the present.
But a subordinate Chizhang Manzhi said to the king of the Qiuyu Kingdom: “The road must not be widened for the present sent by the State of Jin, because Zhi Bo was a crafty man, who might build a death trap for the small kingdom. The army of Jin was bound to attack the kingdom if the geographical barriers were removed. Don’t lose the greater for the less.”
But the king of the Qiuyu Kingdom didn’t heed his advice and drove him away.
The army of Jin eliminated the Qiuyu kingdom shortly after the small kingdom welcomed the present sent by Zhi Bo.
English equivalent idiom
Sell one's birthright for a mess of pottages
“Sell one's birthright for a mess of pottages”is an English idiom which means “lose the greater for the less”. The idiom originated from a story in the Genesis of Old Testament.
Genesis 25: Isaac’s wife Rebekah became pregnant. The babies jostled each other within her, and she said, “Why is this happening to me?” So she went to inquire of the Lord. The Lord said to her, “Two nations are inyour womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people willbe stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger.”
When the time came for her to give birth, there were twin boys in her womb. The first was named Esau. His brother was named Jacob. The boys grew up, and Esau became a skillful hunter, while Jacob was content to stay at home among the tents. Once when Jacob was cooking some stew, Esau came in and said to Jacob, “Quick, let me have some of that red stew! I’m famished!” Jacob replied, “First sell me your birthright.” “Look, I am about to die,” Esau said. “What good is the birthright to me?”
But Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So he swore an oath to him, selling his birthright to Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau some bread and some lentil stew. He ate and drank, and then got up and left. Esau despised his birthright.
Then people use the phrase“sell one's birthright for a mess of pottage”to describe some one who suffer a big loss for a little gain.
后来，人们用sell one's birthright for a mess of pottage这个短语比喻因小失大的人。