Story Behind the Idiom: 画蛇添足 – The dangers of showing off

This is the first 成语 backstory I recall reading in class. It’s about a guy who can’t help but flaunt his superior skill in front of others, and the nasty surprise he gets as a result. This is upper-beginner, HSK 4.

Guess it’s idiom week over here. I realized how many of the classic 成语 chéng yǔ I hadn’t gotten to yet, and started rolling through them. This is the first 成语 backstory I recall reading in class. It’s about a guy who can’t help but flaunt his superior skill in front of others, and the nasty surprise he gets as a result. This is upper-beginner, HSK 4.

Some language stuff

This piece in an exercise not in learning nouns and verbs, but in sentence-supporting words, like 还不如 hái bù rú, “might as well”, 于是 yú shì, “and so”, 十分 shí fēn “quite / rather”, 未必 wèi bì, “not necessarily”, and 不料 bù liào, “unexpectedly”. A couple other points:

shéi – This usually means “who”, but in this case, it’s more like “whoever”.

不依 bù yī – To be unwilling to concede a point, to be unwilling to comply or go along with something.

属(谁) shǔ (shéi) – 属 means “to belong to”, in many of the same senses it does in English. “I belong in this family”, “This book belongs to me”, “I belong to this land”… you can use 属 to express all those concepts. But in this case, it’s referring to an object belonging to a person.

不过… 而已。 bú guò … ér yǐ – This sentence structure is similar to “Was only….., that’s all.” As in, “I was only trying to help, that’s all.” Or, “I was just here to grab my stuff is all.”

酒反正你是喝不成了 – Gonna break this one down:
酒 – Wine
反正 – in any case
你 – you
是 – are
喝不成 – unsuitable to drink it / shouldn’t be allowed to drink it
了 – grammar word.

We can see from this that 喝不成 is the hard part here. The character 成 by itself can have broad connotations of something coalescing, or coming together, as in 变成 “to become”,合成 “to compound”, 造成 “to create”. In this case, 你是喝不成 could be understood as “It doesn’t come together that you should drink this”. But “coming together” is used figuratively here, in that an idea which isn’t correct or proper doesn’t “come together”. In English we might say, “It doesn’t square that you should drink this”.

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Show English translation »
There was a man who threw a party, and gave a pot of wine to his guests. The guests took the wine, but felt that with so many people drinking one pot of wine, surely it wouldn’t be enough, and it would be better to give [the whole pot] to one person. But who would be best to give it to? So, the guests discussed it and [came up with] a good idea, which was that everyone should draw a snake on the ground, and whoever finished drawing the snake first, that’s who would be given the wine to drink. Everyone agreed to this solution.

Every guest took up a small stick, and started drawing a snake on the ground. One person drew very fast, and had finished his snake in just a few minutes, so he took up the pot of wine. Just as he was waiting to drink it, he saw the others still hadn’t finished drawing snakes, so feeling very pleased with himself he took up the stick again, and said to himself, “Looks like [if] I give the snake a few feet, they still won’t necessarily be done.”

Unexpectedly, before this person could finish drawing feet on the snake, the wine pot in his hand was snatched away by the man next to him, turns out, that person’s snake was finished.

The person drawing feet on the snake wasn’t having any of that, and said, “I finished the snake first, the wine should be given to me!”

The [other] person said, smiling: “You’re still drawing, but I’ve already finished, of course the wine should be mine!”

The man drawing feet on the snake said: “I finished early, now I’m just taking advantage of the [extra] time, and I’m only giving the snake a few feet is all.”

The [other] person said: “Snake don’t have feet, if you want to give them feet go ahead, at any rate the wine shouldn’t be for you!”

The [other] person rudely drank up the wine, and the person who drew feet on the snake watched as the wine that originally belonged to him was taken by someone else, and [he was full of] regret.

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