Thursday, February 15, 2018

Some Chinese Proverbs & Metaphors About Dogs

Happy New Year, the Year of the Dog! Below are some Chinese proverbs about dogs. Many of them are not complimentary, as the word "dog" can be an epithet (e.g., 狗头, "dog head, " a disreputable person, lackey, etc., and 狗腿子, "dog legs," also a lackey). A few, however, especially for those of us, very much including me, who love dogs, reflect exactly why we cherish dogs. The list below is far from being complete; it only represents a few of the many proverbs and folk sayings about dogs.

狗嘴吐不出象牙 Don't expect ivory to be spat out from the mouth of a dog. (Nothing from a disreputable source can ever be good; also, don't "expect blood from a stone." Chinese also say not "to look up a tree for a fish." Similarly, Japanese say not "to look for oysters [or clams] in a field.")

狗咬狗  Dog bites dog. (In the West, we might comment on "a dog-eat-dog world." The saying also has connations of there being "no honor among thieves.")

狗头军师  A dog-headed military advisor. (Said of incompetents who, ironically, love doling out advice.)

狗胆包天  A dog's bravery subsuming heaven itself. (Said of those who are overly brave and rash, such as "fools who rush in where angels are afraid to tread.")

狗惜鼻 A dog placing all of its confidence in its nose. (Said of those who are easily shaken, discouraged after a setback.)

怕狗无出门, 亲家你也来  To be afraid that the dog hasn't gone out yet when you and the [entire] family show up. (This Taiwanese saying hints at when the unthinkable or least desired outcome occurs.)

狗食落, 独肝腹内知 When a dog drops/misses its meal, the dog knows it in its gut. (To know something is true in your heart; the heart doesn't lie. [Actually, it does but you get the idea.])

狗咬人不露齿 A dog that bites doesn't bare its fangs. (Said of those quiet, unassuming individuals who turn out to be surprisingly formidable, dangerous, vicious, etc. Chinese also urge each other to "beware of silent dogs" for the same reason.)

狗咬狼, 两怕 A dog bites a wolf and both are afraid. (Said of two foes who bluster and huff at each other and when finally coming to blows discover both regret everything that led up to the fight. It suggests regretting starting something that has to be finished one way or another.)

狗上瓦坑, 有条路 The dog's on top of the tiles of the earthworks; so, there is a way (out). ("Where there's a will, there's a way." Also, an auspicious beginning suggests success.) 

狗无嫌主人穷 A dog is not ashamed of its master's poverty. (Dogs love us unconditionally. It's not a surprise why of all the animal species they remain the closest to us.)

Guan Meifen, ed. 台灣諺語集成 [Integrated Taiwanese Proverbs]; Tainan: Wenguo Shuju, 2002.
Wang Yongxing, ed. 俗言語智慧精華:閩南版 [The Essence of Wisdom From Popular Proverbs: Minnan (i.e., Taiwanese) Edition]; New Taipei: Junjia Wenhua Shiye, 2012. Shang Yingshi, ed. 中國人的俗話 [Popular Sayings of the Chinese People]; Taipei: Changchunshu Shufang, 1979. Chinese Academy of Social Sciences Institute of Linguistics, ed. 现代汉语词典[A Dictionary of Modern Chinese]; Beijing: Shangwu, 1997. 

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