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This fable describes backstory / origination of the idiom 掩耳盗铃 yǎn ěr dào líng, which literally translates as “to plug one’s ears while stealing a bell”, and meaning “to bury one’s head in the sand”, or “to deceive oneself”.

I understand that this story was taken from the collection 吕氏春秋 (“Mr. Lu’s Annals [of the Spring / Autumn Period]“), which is described as “a historical miscellany from the point of view of Qin period merchant and politician 吕不韦 Lu BuWei lǚ bù wéi

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贵族 – guì zú – Nobility, lord
智伯 – zhì bó – One of the great statesmen of the Spring and Autumn Period.
范氏 – fàn shì – The Fan clan
铸成 – zhù chéng – To mold in metal
大锤 – dà chuí – Sledgehammer
捂住 – wǔ zhù – To cover sth. / to bury one’s face


春秋时侯,晋国贵族智伯灭掉了范氏。有人趁机跑到范氏家里想偷点东西,看见院子里吊着一口大钟。钟是用上等青铜铸成的,造型和图案都很精美。小偷心里高兴极了,想把这口精美的大钟背回自已家去。可是钟又大又重,怎么也挪不动。他想来想去,只有一个办法,那就是把钟敲碎,然后再分别搬回家。
  
小偷找来一把大大锤,拼命朝钟砸去,咣的一声巨响,把他吓了一大跳。小偷着慌,心想这下糟了,这种声不就等于是告诉人们我正在这里偷钟吗?他心里一急,身子一下子扑到了钟上,张开双臂想捂住钟声,可钟声又怎么捂得住呢!钟声依然悠悠地传向远方。

他越听越害怕,不同自由地抽回双手,使劲捂住自已的耳朵。“咦,钟声变小了,听不见了!”小偷高兴起来,“妙极了!把耳朵捂住不住就听不进钟声了吗!”他立刻找来两个布团,把耳朵塞住,心想,这下谁也听不见钟声了。于是就放手砸起钟来,一下一下,钟声响亮地传到很远的地方。人们听到钟声蜂拥而至把小偷捉住了。

SHOW ENGLISH TRANSLATION »

During the Spring and Autumn period, Nobleman ZhiBo of the Jin state eliminated the Fan clan [in battle]. There was a person who sought to take advantage of the defeated [and thus absent] Fan clan to steal some things from their house, and he saw that in their yard dangled a large bell. The bell was molded from the finest bronze, its shape and design were very fine indeed. The thief was extremely happy, thinking to take this refined bell and carry it back to his own house. But the bell was both big and heavy, and howsoever he tried, he couldn’t move it. He thought and thought, and came up with just one solution, which was to break the bell to bits, then take the pieces separately back to his house.
  
The thief found a sledgehammer, and swung at the bell with all his might. A loud “gong” sound rang out, startling the thief. The thief panicked, thinking this [enterprise] was spoiled, thinking “that kind of noise is tantamount to telling people that I’m here stealing the bell, isn’t it?” He was worried, and he flung is body at the bell, stretching his arms around it to try to still the sound, but really how could he stop it? The sound went on and on, ringing far and wide.

The longer he heard it, the more afraid he became, and withdrew his hands to press them against his ears with all his strength. “Yi, the sound has lessened, I can’t hear it anymore!” The thief became happy again, “How wonderful! If I cover my ears well, the sound can’t be heard!” covered his ears well, he couldn’t hear the sound at all! He immediately found two pieces of cloth and stopped up his ears, thinking that this way, no one else could hear the bell’s sound either. So he began smashing the bell, hitting it again and again, the ringing of the bell being heard even in far away places. People heard the bells sounds and came in great numbers, catching the thief.


3 comments to "Story Behind the Idiom YanErDaoLing"

  1. Thank you for putting traditonal characters as well as simplified when you hover over the word. It was a great help.I Iearnt traditional, but am trying to learn simplified.

  2. 真有意思! 我喜歡閱讀成語的故事。謝啦!

  3. “一声巨响” on the beginning of the 2nd paragraph is translated as “First tone in Mandarin”.

    I think 声 should rather be considered as the measure word of sounds, here of 巨响. (一声巨响 means 一个巨响).

    Thanks for your work and amazing website ! :)


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