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The Sleepwalking Lady Macbeth by Johann Heinrich Fussli.

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Chinese practice


the wood has already been made into a boat

(mu4 yi3 cheng2 zhou1)








「Things without all remedy

Should be without regard. What’s done is done.」


後來在第五幕第一場中,夢遊中的馬克白夫人看著手上的血,狂亂地說:「What’s done cannot be undone」(已經做了的事無法挽回)。

「what’s done is done」和「what’s done cannot be undone」都用來表示,想要去逆轉某件事,或身深陷在懊悔中,都是沒有意義的。最好還是認清既定事實、邁步向前。

另外,還有一個相同意義的短語也很常見:「you can’t unscramble eggs」(你無法把炒蛋回復原狀),這是出於美國金融家及藝術收藏家約翰‧皮爾龐‧摩根(西元一八三七~一九一三年)所言。



(The families were dead set against their marriage, but when the twins arrived, they saw there was no going back, and they had no choice but to accept the union.)


(We have to push for an agreement on this arms procurement deal. Once it has been inked, it will be difficult for them to go back on it.)


what’s done has been done

what’s done cannot be undone

you can’t unscramble eggs

Idioms, ideas and metaphors originating in ancient Chinese classics would often only become widely known through their inclusion in popular literary works penned by educated writers in later dynasties, such as the Ming and Qing.

In his monumental novel yesou puyan (approx. 1780, Humble Words of a Rustic Elder), the Qing Dynasty scholar and writer Xia Jingqu (1705-1787) has Mme Shui, the mother of his protagonist Wen Suchen, say 據你說來,則木已成舟,實難挽回了: “from what you tell me, what’s done is done, there’s no going back now.” She was reacting to the news that Wen had secretly taken a woman as his concubine, something she was none too happy about, but realized there was nothing she could do to change.

Xia would have obtained the idea for the phrase 木已成舟, literally “the wood has already been made into a boat,” from the ancient Chinese divination classic the Book of Changes, or yijing. In the Great Treatise II section there is a reference to the process of making boats in ancient times: 刳木為舟,剡木為楫 (they hollowed out trees to form canoes; they cut others long and thin to make oars).

Xia had traveled extensively in China, and was learned in the ancient classics, philosophy and astronomy. He would have studied the yijing as part of his education and his — ultimately unsuccessful — preparation for the civil service examinations.

The tree, when felled, can be put to many uses. Once you have hollowed it out, you are committed to making a canoe; you could not return the wood to its former state and make something else instead. Through the popularity of yesou puyan, the phrase 木已成舟 would enter the language and become used as an idiom to refer to something which cannot be changed, or an action that cannot be reversed.

Of course, idioms become popularized in other languages, too, through their inclusion or initial use in literary works. In English, the plays of William Shakespeare are a rich source of linguistic innovation and the origin of proverbs.

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