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Noah’s Ark on Mount Ararat, by Simon de Myle.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Chinese practice


(huo4 bu4 dan1 xing2)

misfortune does not come singly



在英文中,這個意義可以用「it never rains, but it pours」來表示,有時會簡化成「it never rains」,或是換成另一種說法「when it rains it pours」。「to pour」意為下大雨,因此讓「it never rains, but it pours」乍看之下顯得違反常理。但實際上,「but」字在此處屬較老式,起碼是很正式的用法,意指「沒有……這種情況」,用來表示無法避免的事。換句話說,「it never rains but it pours」的意思是,「一旦下起雨來,就不會只有下一點點,而總會是傾盆大雨」。

此諺語的出處不詳,但早在十八世紀便已在使用,例如約翰‧阿布斯諾特(西元一六六七~一七三五年)於一七二六年出版的書,書名即為《It cannot rain but it pours: or, London strow’d with rarities》。



(Hot on the heels of the forest fires, California was hit by torrential rain, causing a serious landslide. It never rains but it pours.)


(The goat managed to escape the crocodile’s jaws, but went straight from the frying pan into the fire, coming across a pride of lions and becoming their dinner.)


it never rains but it pours

The shuo yuan (Garden of Stories) collection of historical anecdotes written by the Western Han Dynasty Confucian scholar Liu Xiang (77–6 BC) includes a cautionary tale involving Marquis Zhao of the State of Han during the Warring States Period. In the 25th year of his reign, at a time the state was going through a major drought and the people did not have enough to eat, he ordered construction of a large city gate. Hearing this, Qu Yijiu, a senior official of the State of Chu, predicted that Zhao himself would never go through that gate during his lifetime. He said, “It was only last year that the Qin army occupied an important border town in Han’s territory. This year there has been drought and famine. At a time like this, the marquis thinks only of vanity, and wastes resources, sparing little thought for his people.” He concludes 福不重至,禍必重來者也 (good fortune rarely comes in twos, bad fortune comes in succession). It turned out that Qu was right. As the text says so succinctly, “The gate was completed, the marquis died. He never did go through that gate.”

From this story we have the idiom 禍不單行: Misfortune does not come in ones; or, when troubles come, they come together.

In English, this sentiment can be expressed with the phrase “it never rains, but it pours,” sometimes shortened to “it never rains” or given the alternate phrasing “when it rains it pours.” As “to pour” means to rain heavily, “it never rains, but it pours” sounds at first counterintuitive. In fact, the “but” here is used in an archaic, or at least quite formal, way to suggest an inevitable occurrence, and means “without it being the case that...” In other words, “it never rains but it pours” means “whenever it rains, it never rains a little bit: It always pours.”

The origin of the proverb is unknown, but it was used as early as the early 18th century, for example in the title of the 1726 book It cannot rain but it pours: or, London strow’d with rarities by John Arbuthnot (1667-1735).

(Paul Cooper, Taipei Times)

I’ve had a terrible day at work and my car broke down on the way home. It never rains, does it?

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