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Landscape with Apple Tree, circa 1890, Levi Wells Prentice.

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Chinese Practice


(tuo4 shou2 ke3 de2)

as easy as spitting into your palm




在英文中,意義相近的片語是「low hanging fruit」,指的是掛在較低樹枝上的果實,因為處於伸手輕易可及的範圍,毫不費力地就能摘下來。這個片語也就是指容易達成的事物,或是輕易就被說服的人。在企業商務英文中,這個片語經常被拿來形容不用耗費自家公司銷售人員太多力氣,就願意買下產品的客戶,或是毫無困難就能達成的目標,同時卻帶有些微貶抑的意味,暗示其品質並不一定會是最好的。這個片語相近於名詞「easy pickings」(好摘的東西)或是譬喻「like shooting fish in a barrel」──射水桶裡面的魚想必比射大海裡的魚來得容易許多。



(In the Internet age, information is easily available, and yet most people still prefer to stay in their comfort zone and watch or read news that agrees with their own views.)


(Our team has already won six successive games, it’s easily going to win the cup this season.)


low hanging fruit; shooting fish in a barrel

The taiping yulan (Imperial Readings of the Taiping Era), considered one of the “Four Great Books of the Song Dynasty,” is the first large encyclopedia of China. It included citations from around 2,579 different kinds of documents. One of these works was the Chronicles of the Nine States, a history of the Eastern Han Dynasty by the Western Jin period historian and literary scholar Sima Biao (d. 306AD). The original Chronicles is now lost, but entry 61 of the section on military affairs of Vol. 330 of the taiping yulan preserves the quote 始天下兵起,我謂唾掌而決。至於今日,兵革方始,觀此非我所決,不如休兵力耕,以救凶年。(When people started amassing armies, I contrived to conquer all, and said it would be over as quickly as spitting into the palms of my hands; as things have transpired, I can see it will not happen like this. I have decided to step back, rest my armies and till the land, until such time as opportunity arises).

According to the taiping yulan, the Chronicles attributed this quote to Gongsun Zan (died 199AD), a warlord who had been fighting Yuan Shao (153-202AD) for control over northern China. A commentary in the hou han shu (Book of the Later Han Dynasty) tells us that Gongsun Zan was arrogant and avaricious, and ruthless in prosecuting any who challenged him. In the end he lost the loyalty of the commoners living on his land and that of his army, and was eventually defeated by Yuan Shao. In the face of defeat, he killed his own family and then committed suicide through self-immolation to avoid the ignominy of being captured.

Even though taking over the world turned out not to be as easy as Gongsun Zan had originally thought, his phrase 唾掌而決 has given us the idiom 唾手可得 — as easy as spitting into the palm of your hand — used when referring to something that is easy to achieve.

In English, the phrase “low hanging fruit” refers to the fruit on the tree hanging from the lower branches, and therefore within easy reach and readily obtained. It is used to mean things that are simple to achieve or people easy to persuade, often used in corporate speak to talk of clients that will buy your company’s product without salespeople having to expend too much effort, or targets that will be no trouble to achieve. It carries with it a slightly pejorative meaning, suggesting that the quality is not necessarily going to be the best. The phrase is similar to “easy pickings” as a noun, or “like shooting fish in a barrel” — presumably much easier to do than shooting them in a vast ocean — as a simile.

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