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  Chinese Practice


  (yao3 wen2 jiao2 zi4)

  to bite words and chew characters




  「咬文嚼字」的咬碎和咀嚼的意象,很容易讓人誤以為其意和英文片語「not to mince words」相同。然而,此語中「mince」的意思,並非我們一般所熟知的動詞「絞碎」(把肉、藥草、洋蔥等剁碎)──這「絞碎」的意義源於拉丁字「minutus」(意為「小」)及「minutiae」(小口咬)。

  「not to mince words」中的「mince」,指的是「用禮貌的語言來批評某事或人」或「為禮節而自我克制」。威廉?莎士比亞在一六○六年的劇作《安東尼與克麗奧佩特拉》中第一幕第二景便用了此語,讓莎翁筆下的安東尼說道:

  Speak to me home. Mince not the general tongue.(有話直說,不必吞吞吐吐)

  Name Cleopatra as she is called in Rome.(稱呼克利歐佩特拉,按照她在羅馬所被稱呼的那樣)

  Rail thou in Fulvia’s phrase, and taunt my faults (用福爾維亞的詞句來罵我)

  With such full license as both truth and malice

  Have power to utter. (用真理與敵意所能有的一切力量來盡情指責我的過錯)

  莎翁這句「mince not the general tongue」(有話直說,不必吞吞吐吐),是用來表達否定:「do not mince your words」(不要矯揉造作地說)。這也是英國政治家及作家班傑明?迪斯雷利(一八○四~一八八一)一八二六年的小說《維維安?格雷》中所用的寫法:「Your Lordship’s heart is very warm in the cause of a party, which, for I will not mince my words, has betrayed you.」(閣下對政黨的理想是滿懷熱忱的,而我要直言不諱地說,這政黨背叛了你)。

  因此「not mince your words」即意指用直截了當、直言不諱的方式說話,不做任何修飾來緩和所說內容的力道。「not mince your words」的用法,和「咬文嚼字」恰恰相反。



  (The dialogue in many idol dramas is so contrived and unnatural, it bears little resemblance to how people normally speak.)


  (The way he writes is pretentious and unnecessarily complicated; it’s as if he thinks that baffling people with words is a way to show his own erudition.)


  to not mince one’s words

  The Chinese idiom 咬文嚼字 means, literally, to “bite words and chew characters,” and refers to the trait of being meticulous about one’s choice of wording. Such attention to detail can, of course, be a wonderful thing, but it can also be regarded as utterly pretentious and contrived.

  The idiom, then, is mostly used in a negative way.

  In Chapter 27 of the mid-Qing Dynasty novel hong lou meng (Dream of the Red Chamber), for example, Cao Xueqin writes 他們必把一句話拉長了,作兩三截兒,咬文嚼字,拿著腔兒,哼哼唧唧的,急的我冒火 (How they drag out their sentences, saying things in 50 words that could be said in five, with their meticulous meanderings and their affected manner of speaking, whining on and on, I find it so infuriating.”) It can also be used to satirize the pretension of using long words. In Chapter 6 of the suitang yanyi (Legends of the Sui and Tang Dynasties) by the late Ming Dynasty and early Qing Dynasty writer Chu Renhuo, we read, 如遇患難,此輩咬文嚼字之人,只好坐以待斃,何足為用?(What godly use are the people of today, with their clever words and pedantry: how are these going to help them when disaster looms?)

  The mastication mentioned in 咬文嚼字 makes it seem a perfect fit for the English alternative “not to mince words.” Mince, here, is not used in the familiar sense of the verb meaning to chop (meat, herbs, onions, etc.) into little pieces (which, interestingly, comes from the Latin minutus (small) and minutiae (“small bits”)).

  The “mince” in the phrase means “to use polite language when criticizing something or someone,” or “to restrain oneself in the interest of decorum.” William Shakespeare used it in Act 1 Scene 2 of his 1606 play Antony and Cleopatra, in which he has Antony say:


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