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Monograph of Phasianide or Family of Pheasants, by Daniel Giraud Elliot, 1872.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Chinese Practice


(mu4 zhong1 wu2 ren2)

to consider everyone else beneath you

英文中有個習語「have one’s nose in the air」,字面意義為某人把鼻子挺得高高的。若有人把頭抬高、仰起下巴、鼻尖凸出、用鼻孔對著人,就會給人一種自視甚高、目中無人的高傲的感覺。



我們現今口語所說的「眼睛長在頭頂上」,也大約是這個意思。另外還有一種說法「鼻孔撩天」(或作「鼻孔朝天」),也是充滿視覺形象的形容。「目中無人」、「目空一切」、「眼睛長在頭頂上」、「鼻孔撩天」等這些成語,以及英文的「have one’s nose in the air」,一個比一個生動,就像是諷刺畫般活靈活現地幾筆勾勒出這驕傲的神態。



(This movie star has had a taste of success, and is now putting on airs and walking around with his nose in the air. He’s got the backs up of the whole film crew.)


(Some say it’s easy to become full of yourself and conceited if you succeed early on, but you risk losing the opportunity to continue learning.)


have one’s nose in the air

In English, there is a common saying that goes “to have one’s nose in the air,” which literally means to walk around with your nose held high. If somebody has their nose elevated in this manner, with their jaw lifted and the tip of their nose turned up, showing people the inside of their nostrils, it imparts an impression not only of excessive self-regard but also of an arrogance betraying a distinct disregard of others.

In Chinese, this idea — of being so arrogant you only think of yourself — is encapsulated in the idiom 目中無人. The phrase derives from a story in chapter 13 of the late Ming Dynasty collection of short stories Slapping the Table in Amazement I by Ling Mengchu (1580–1644). In the story, a couple are blessed with a child late on in life, and spoil it: Whatever the child wanted, the couple would do everything within their power to make sure that he got it. Over time, the child became accustomed to this, and when he grew up he ran with gangs and got himself into trouble. The son had complete disregard for others, and even hit his own father, to his parents great sadness.

There is another idiom, too, with a similar meaning: 目空一切, literally the inability to see anything, indicating arrogance in a person. It is generally believed that this phrase comes from the Preface to the Works of Yu Jizhi by the Southern Song Dynasty political writer Chen Liang (1143-1194). In the text, Chen discusses four friends, one of whom he describes as “being oblivious to the four seas” — 目空四海 — and of viewing himself very favorably, on a par with very capable peers, such that he could mix in the same circles as the educated elite. Over time, 目空四海 evolved into the idiom 目空一切.

A modern colloquial term with a meaning essentially the same as this is 眼睛長在頭頂上, literally “eyes growing on the top of one’s head.” Another phrase is 鼻孔撩天, sometimes written 鼻孔朝天, literally “nostrils turned up to face the heavens,” is another very visual description. These are very similar to the English phrase “have one’s nose in the air,” wittily conjuring up the image of an arrogant posture often seen in satirical drawings.

(Translated by Paul Cooper)

Look at that guy with his nose up in the air like that. Who does he think he is?

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