Mon, Oct 09, 2017 - Page 9

Chinese practice


(yu4 bang4 xiang1 zheng1 yu2 weng1 de2 li4)

When the sandpiper and the clam fight, the fisherman benefits.





許多歐洲語言中的說法也有類似的意義,例如十四世紀的英文諺語「while two dogs are fighting for a bone, a third runs away with it」(兩狗為爭一塊骨頭打架時,第三隻狗來搶走了骨頭),以及其他歐語的變形,像是德語「Wenn zwei sich streiten, freut sich der Dritte」(當雙方打架,第三方就高興了),以及羅馬尼亞語「Cand doi se cearta, al treilea castiga」(兩人為某事物爭鬥,第三方全贏)。

即使這英文諺語現今已很少使用,但有一個相關的說法「bone of contention」留傳了下來,它意指爭論的焦點,即一個不易解決的事物或問題。



(If we keep fighting between ourselves we will both be weakened, and let the enemy take advantage of the situation. We will be benefitting them, not us.)


(The competition between these two companies was really fierce, but it only served to help their rival, and they both ended up being bought out by a larger company.)


bone of contention;

While two dogs are fighting for a bone, a third runs away with it.

A fisherman is walking along the shore on a sunny day. He sees a sandpiper with its beak stuck in a clam’s shell, and snatches them up for his lunch. It turns out, the sandpiper had caught the clam sunning itself, and tried to peck it out of its shell. The clam shut its shell around the bird’s beak, and the sandpiper, alarmed, attempted to scare the clam into releasing it, saying, it’s not going to rain today; it’s not going to rain tomorrow, either. You’ll be dead by then if you don’t open up. The clam retorted with, if I don’t set you free, then so will you.

That is when the fisherman grabbed them.

This story was related in the Strategies of Yan section of the ancient Chinese classic the Strategies of the Warring States. The military strategist Su Dai had traveled to Zhao to speak with King Huiwen on behalf of Yan, to dissuade him from attacking the state. Su’s point was that if Zhao and Yan were preoccupied with fighting each other, the more powerful state of Qin — which would, indeed, later defeat all of the states to unify China — would take advantage of the situation and destroy them both.

The story gives us the idiom 鷸蚌相爭,漁翁得利: literally, when the sandpiper and the clam fight, the fisherman benefits.

There is a similar sentiment to be found in many European languages, for example with the 14th century English proverb “while two dogs are fighting for a bone, a third runs away with it” and variations in other languages, including Wenn zwei sich streiten, freut sich der Dritte (German: When two fight, a third rejoices) and Cand doi se cearta, al treilea castiga (Romanian: where two people are fighting over something, the third party wins all).

Even though the English proverb is little used today, a related idea does survive: the “bone of contention,“ meaning an object or issue over which there is a disagreement that is not easily resolved.

(Paul Cooper, Taipei Times)

I wouldn’t mention who is going to inherit the old clock if I were you: It’s a bit of a bone of contention in our household.


Can’t we just sit down and discuss this? Why does it have to be such a bone of contention?