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La Chasse (The Hunt) by Albert Gleizes, 1911.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Chinese Practice


(guai3 wan1 mo4 jiao3; kai1 men2 jian4 shan1)

going round curves, skirting corners

open the door, see the mountain

《詹納里傳奇的七行詩》這部詩作,描述印度國王私生子詹納里的故事,這位印度國王後來娶了波斯公主,並統治了印度和波斯。這故事的背景雖然是在亞洲,但此詩顯然是源於十五世紀的英格蘭中部。詩中有這樣一句:「Some bete the bussh and some the byrdes take」(有些人打樹叢,有些人捉鳥)。

這指的是中世紀英格蘭的一種打獵方式,其做法是獵人先僱人把藏在樹叢中的獵物趕出來,然後再開始打獵。趕出獵物的工作很危險,因為藏在樹叢中的,除了有獵人想捉的那些無害的鳥類和松鼠,也有可能會是野豬等更危險的動物。野豬有鋒利的獠牙,可刺穿人的腿,有時會致人於死。僱傭的人不想冒著被刺死的危險,於是在趕出獵物時就不直接去打樹叢,而是擊打樹叢的周圍,讓所造成的聲響足以驚擾樹叢中的動物,但仍與樹叢保持足夠的距離──要是有野豬衝出來,就還會有空間可以躲開。這就是成語「to beat around the bush」的由來,此語引申為講話兜圈子、東拉西扯,而沒有真正切入主題。

在中文裡,我們可以說這是「拐彎抹角」──字面意思為「走彎路、挨牆角繞過」。「拐彎抹角」跟「beat around the bush」一樣,是希望說話的人別再搪塞、支吾其詞,而能夠直截了當地切入重點,也就是要「開門見山」。成語「開門見山」,其義與「beat around the bush」和「拐彎抹角」相反,其由來跟唐代詩人李白有關(李白,字太白,因此亦稱李太白)。南宋詩學家及詩人嚴羽,在其《滄浪詩話》中寫道:「太白發句,謂之開門見山」(李白因為個性豪放,所寫的詩常是一開頭就切入主題。)

相當於「開門見山」的英文成語可說是「to call a fig a fig」(把無花果稱為無花果),或「to call a spade a spade」(把鐵鍬稱為鐵鍬),兩句皆表示直言不諱,形容人完全按該事物之原樣來描述它,不加任何掩飾,也不去美化它。艾本納則‧寇本‧布留沃在其一九一三年出版的《布留沃成語與掌故辭典》中,將「to call a spade a spade」定義為「直言不諱、直率,甚至到了魯莽的地步」,並說此語意謂「直呼其名,絲毫沒有『beat around the bush』」。



(Americans tend to be direct, and often misunderstand the backhanded sarcasm British people use. Some things may sound like praise, but are actually quite cutting and sardonic.)


(Let me get straight to the point: Where did you go after work yesterday?)


beat around the bush

call a spade a spade

The poem Generydes, a Romance in Seven-line Stanzas relates the story of Generydes, an illegitimate son of the “King of India,” who goes on to marry a Persian princess and comes to rule India and Persia. Despite the Asian setting of the story, the poem apparently originated in the English Midlands during the 15th century. In it appears the line “Some bete the bussh and some the byrdes take” (some beat the bush and some take the birds).

This was a reference to a practice dating to medieval England, in which hunters would hire men to flush out prey hiding in bushes. This was a dangerous task, as concealed in the bushes might be, in addition to more the harmless birds and squirrels the hunters were after, more dangerous animals such as boars, with sharp tusks that could be used to gouge a man’s leg, sometimes fatally. Rather than risk death by gouging, the hired men would beat the area around the bushes, and not hit the bushes directly, causing sufficient noise to scare the animals within but still maintaining sufficient distance should a boar rush out. This gives us the phrase “to beat around the bush,” used in the extended meaning of talking around a subject without actually getting to the point.

In Chinese, we can say 拐彎抹角, literally “going round the curves and skirting the corners,” to say the same thing. Like the English phrase, it is used as a wish that the speaker would stop prevaricating, and just get straight to the point. The opposite meaning, to say something directly, is 開門見山, originating from a reference to the Tang poet Li Bai, also known by his courtesy name Taibai, by the Chinese poetry theorist and poet of the southern Song Dynasty, Yan Yu. In his poetic theory book canglang shihua, Yan wrote 太白發句,謂之開門見山: “when Taibai writes, it was as if you opened the door and saw the mountains right before you.”

An English equivalent to 開門見山 could be “to call a fig a fig,” or “to call a spade a spade.” In these phrases, one describes an object exactly as it is, with no pretentions or attempts to prettify. In his 1913 book Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, Ebenezer Cobham Brewer defined “to call a spade a spade” as “outspoken, blunt, even to the point of rudeness,” and said that it suggests calling “things by their proper names without any ‘beating about the bush.’”

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