Mon, Feb 05, 2018 - Page 9

Chinese practice


(qian1 zai3 nan2 feng2)

extremely rare

月圓大約是每個月都有一次,所以過去用「once in a moon」來表示一個月一次,意指偶爾發生的事。

月亮顯然不是藍色的,「blue moon」一詞在中世紀的英格蘭似乎意指荒繆或不可能。例如一五二八年,在當時宗教改革的背景下,奇切斯特主教威廉‧巴洛對天主教神職人員的批評:「Yf they saye the mone is belewe, we must beleve that it is true.」(如果他們說月亮是藍色的,我們就必須相信這是真的。)因此在當時,片語「once in a blue moon」其實是表示不可能。

在美國,《緬因州農民曆》自一八九一年起將月亮的圓缺變化列出。在典型的有十二個滿月的一年,每個滿月都有一特定的名字,例如「Harvest Moon」(收穫月,指最接近立秋或秋分的滿月)。由於陽曆月和陰曆月所含的天數不同,有時一年會有十三次滿月。這情況雖不常見,但實際上每三年就有一次。一季有三個月,所以通常有三次滿月,但偶爾會有四次滿月。自一九三二年起,《緬因州農民曆》開始把一季中四次滿月的第三次滿月稱做「blue moon」,或許是受到英文片語「once in a blue moon」的啟發。現今「once in a blue moon」則是意指不常發生的事。





(Some say that artificial intelligence is a threat to humankind, while others say it’s an opportunity the like of which we rarely come across.)


once in a blue moon

The full moon occurs roughly once a month, and the phrase “once in a moon” — once a month — used to refer to an event that occurred only occasionally.

The moon is demonstrably not blue. In Medieval England the concept of a “blue moon” seems to have referred to an absurdity, or an impossibility. For example, in 1528, William Barlow, the Bishop of Chichester, who at the time, against the backdrop of the Protestant Reformation, had reason to be critical of the Catholic clergy, wrote, “Yf they saye the mone is belewe, we must beleve that it is true” (If they say the moon is blue, we must believe that it is true). At the time, then, the phrase “once in a blue moon” would essentially have meant never.

In the US, since 1891, the Maine Farmer’s Almanac had listed the phases of the full moon. In a typical 12-full moon year, each full moon was given a specific name, such as Harvest Moon (which was the one nearest the start of fall or the autumnal equinox). Due to the difference in the length of the calendar month and the lunar month, some years have 13 full moons. These, while infrequent, would actually happen once every three years. From 1932, the almanac began referring to the third full moon in a season with four full moons as the Blue Moon, possibly inspired by the English phrase “once in a blue moon.” The phrase now means something that happens infrequently.

The Chinese idiom 千載難逢 — literally, a once-in-a-millenium occurrence — refers to something extremely rare, and originates from a letter the Southern Qi Dynasty official Yu Gaozhi (441–491) submitted to the emperor to announce the end of his service when he, having fallen ill, knew his days were numbered. Yu had shown exceptional academic aptitude from a very young age, and had achieved success despite not having a wealthy background. After entering government service, he had gradually worked his way up to a senior position. Now, aware of his failing health, he presented the letter, in which he wrote 臣以凡庸,謬徼昌運,獎擢之厚,千載難逢: “Your humble servant is of limited talents, and is unworthy of the good fortune to have been accorded such generous treatment; the opportunity I have been given is the kind one could not expect in 1,000 years.”

A version of 千載難逢 would later appear in the Letter of Gratitude by a Chaozhou Prefect by the Tang Dynasty writer Han Yu (768-824). Han Yu had caused offense and was demoted by Emperor Xianzong and exiled to Chaozhou. His daughter died on the way. Despite all of these hardships, he wrote, on arriving in Chaozhou, the letter to the emperor, expressing his regret for having caused offense. Han Yu is known as one of the “Eight Giants of Tang and Song prose,” and in the letter he praised the emperor’s achievements and the splendor of the Tang dynasty, writing 當此之際,所謂千載一時不可逢之嘉會 (the present time is one of greatness not achieved in 1,000 years) to describe the heights the dynasty had ascended. He wrote that the emperor’s achievements, if written down, could be favorably compared to those of the sages described in the ancient classics the Book of Documents and the Book of Poetry, and expressed regret that, in his exile and with his failing health, he would no longer have the opportunity to record the emperor’s great achievements for posterity.

(Paul Cooper, Taipei Times)

I don’t see him very often, to be honest: Perhaps once in a blue moon.