【abstract】idioms are the essence of a language, which have strong national colors and distinctive cultural connotations. so it is difficult for both english and chinese readers to understand the idiom translation thoroughly and exactly. this thesis first analyzes the similarity of english and chinese idioms from the aspect of rhetorical means, such as alliteration, rhyme, repetition, antithesis and so on. then it probes into the causes of the differences in english and chinese idioms from the aspects of different living circumstances, different cognitions of things, different religions and beliefs, and different historical allusions and myths, etc. after that, it talks about the three typical problems in english-chinese idiom translation, such as interpreting the english idioms too literally, copying chinese customary sayings mechanically, and lacking in necessary explanatory notes. finally, it summarizes five idiom translation methods, including literal translation with explanation, literal translation with association, transformation of meanings, application of chinese couplet and equal consideration of both images and meanings. all the significance of this thesis is to convey the idioms’ cultural information as much as possible, which is very useful for the language learning.
【key words】 idiom; comparison; translation
idioms are the essence of a language, which are always philosophical and eternal. according to oxford advantaged learner’s english-chinese dictionary, an idiom is “a phrase or sentence whose meaning is not clear from the meaning of its individual words and which must be learnt as a whole unit”. “in the broad sense, idioms may include : set phrases; proverbs; sayings; epigrams; slang expressions; colloquialisms; quotations; two-part allegorical sayings, of which the first part ,always stated, is descriptive, while the second part , sometimes unstated, carries the message(chiefly in chinese). while in chinese, idioms are called as ‘熟语’,including:短语，成语(usually consisting of four words),俗语，谚语，格言，箴言，名言(quotation or recorded utterance ) ，警句，隽语，俚语，粗话，行话，歇后语(including pun),习语, etc.”  however, the thesis will discuss english and chinese idioms in a narrow sense, and only set phrases and proverbs will be under discussion.
english idioms and chinese idioms are gems of the two languages as well as the crystallization of the two national cultures. most of idioms are of vivid images which are appropriately used to compare to other things, consequently, they often contain distinctive national and local colors. some idioms have quite clear meanings, some are implicit and profound, which could cause a great deal of association, while others may include several meanings, which depend on the context to define its real indication.
both english and chinese idioms are important rhetorical means in language as well as the assembled manifestations of different kinds of rhetorical means in itself. many idioms have symmetrical forms, beautiful syllables and harmonious rhythms. all these features give rise to the particular difficulties in translation: it is more difficult to understand and more challenging to convey the cultural information clearly and exactly than the common language, however, in order to keep the translation faithful, these features should be preserved. not only do idioms appear largely in literary works, but also in political and scientific thesis. the qualities of the idioms translation directly affect the whole translation. so it is essential to study the idioms and their methods of translation seriously.
2. the similarity between english and chinese idioms in rhetorical means
although there is always some “cultural distance” between chinese and english, there is much overlap, too, and it shows in many aspects. however, the focal point of the thesis will lie in the analysis of the english and chinese idioms similarity from the view of rhetorical means.
both english and chinese idioms usually adopt rhetorical means, such as alliteration, rhyme, repetition, and antithesis, etc, for the purpose of enriching the rhyme and rhythm.
“alliteration is the occurrence of the same letter or sound at the beginning of two or more words in succession”, which sounds continual and is easy to read and to remember. both english and chinese idioms take full advantages of the means, so that they could be passed down from generation to generation. let’s look at some examples.
in chinese there are “恍恍惚惚，红红火火,乒乒乓乓” ,etc. in english there are also “ as cool as a cucumber”(泰然自若), “as busy as a bee” (忙个不停), “tit for tat”(以牙还牙), “as thick as thieves” (非常亲密,要好), “sing a song of sixpence”, “ ‘part and parcel’(主要部分)， ‘might and main’ (竭尽全力)”,  “money makes the mare go.” (有钱能使鬼推磨) , etc.
through the above examples, we may well see that both english and chinese idioms are popular by this means.
“rhyme is the sameness of sound between words or syllable”, which sounds very beautiful. some english and chinese idioms use this method as well to achieve the acoustic enjoyment. for example:
in chinese, there are “从善如登，从恶如崩、不经一事，不长一智、差之毫厘，缪以千里、失之东隅，收之桑榆”, etc. , which use the means of rhyme. in english, we also can find it in “ a friend in need is a friend indeed.” , “beggars can’t be choosers.” , “east or west, home is the best.” , “health is better than wealth.” , “ ‘as snug as a bug in a rug’ (舒舒服服)， ‘high and dry’(孤立无援), ‘by hook or by crook’(不择手段)”  ,etc.
both english and chinese idioms that use this rhetorical means are of tinkling and jingling sounds. not only are they easy to remember, but also it seems that we are reading a beautiful short poem.
in rhetorics, “repetition is a commonly seen rhetorical device, which usually repeats a sentence or part of sentence at both the beginning and end of long sentences, stanzas, or paragraphs. the main function of repetition is to emphasize the key points.” both english and chinese idioms use this method to achieve the emphatic effect. the
examples are like the following:
in chinese, there are “喜气洋洋，多多益善，沾沾自喜，泱泱大风，姗姗来迟，亭亭玉立，想入非非，落落大方，种瓜得瓜，种豆得豆”etc. in english, there are “measure for measure” (一报还一报), “ step by step” (循序渐进), “neck and neck”（并驾齐驱）, “diamond cut diamond”（棋逢对手）, “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”（以眼还眼，以牙还牙）, “call a spade a spade” (直言不讳)，etc.
using the means of repetition makes the idioms have obviously emphatic object. their meanings will be clear at a glance.
“antithesis is the deliberate arrangement of contrasting words or ideas in balanced structural forms to achieve force and emphasis. the form of the expression is very important for effect, for the force of the emphasis, whether for profundity of judgment, for humor or for satire, depends chiefly on the juxtaposition of direct opposites, of glaring contrasts.” many idioms, both english and chinese, adopt this device, too. the examples below illustrate the point:
in chinese, there are “大同小异，古往今来，冷嘲热讽，阴奉阳违，顾此失彼，因小失大，小事明白，大事糊涂”，etc. in english, there are “far and near(四面八方), ups and downs(盛衰沉浮); sooner or later(迟早); more or less(或多或少) , penny wise, pound foolish(小事聪明,大事糊涂)”, etc.
though the idioms have only a few words, they contain much truth and philosophy in them by comparing two completely opposite things. antithesis has played an important role in this aspect, which makes the readers have a lot of aftertaste while pondering over them.
3. the differences between english and chinese idioms
english-speaking and chinese-speaking countries are two different nations, so there exists vast difference between english and chinese culture and this difference occurs in english and chinese idioms, too.
3.1 different living circumstances
idioms are closely related to people’s work and life. so the idioms have strong national colors. britain is an island country on the atlantic ocean, surrounded by the sea, which was once leading the world with its navigation, so lots of english idioms have something to do with navigation and fish. such as: a drop in the ocean“沧海一粟”; plain sailing “一帆风顺”between the devil and deep sea“进退维谷”; know the ropes“懂得秘诀”; go with the stream“随波逐流”; as close as an oyster“守口如瓶”; steer clear of all doubtful questions“避免一切暧昧的事情”; feel under the water“感觉不适”.
while “china is an agricultural country. the peasants have presented many idioms about farmwork, such as ‘斩草除根’ which is translated literally into ‘to cut the weeds and dig up the roots’, its figurative meaning is ‘to stamp out the source of the trouble’. more examples:
‘瑞雪兆丰年’（a timely snow promises a good harvest）; ‘顺藤摸瓜’ （its original meaning is to follow the vine to get the melon; its extended meaning is to track down somebody or something by following clues ）; ‘捡了芝麻，丢了西瓜’ （its original meaning is to pick up the sesame seeds, but overlook the watermelons; its extended meaning is ‘mindful of small matters to neglect of large ones’ ）”, etc.
typically speaking, english people use “spend money like water” to describe someone who splashes money on something. while chinese people say“挥金如土”. “however many idioms concerning boats and water cannot be given the same equivalents in chinese, such as , to rest on one’s oars（暂时歇一歇）, to keep one’s head above water（奋力图存）all at sea（不知所措）etc”.
due to the geographical and environmental factors, the bamboo shoots grow abundantly in china, thus, there are idioms concerning bamboo. on the contrary, bamboo doesn’t grow in british islands at all, even the word “bamboo” is a loan one, so that there is no english idioms in this aspect. for example, “the chinese idiom ‘雨后春笋’is translated into ‘spring up like mushrooms’”  in english.
“in chinese culture, ‘east wind’ is ‘the wind of spring’; summer is always connected with extremely hot or the intense heat, so ‘赤日炎炎似火烧’ ‘骄阳似火’are terms often used to describe summer. while britain is located in western hemisphere, with north temperate zone and marine climate, so ‘west wind’ is the symbol of spring. the famous english poet shirley’s ‘ode to west wind’ is a praising song of spring. summer in britain is a warm and comfortable season, which is usually linked with ‘lovely’, ‘gentle’ and ‘nice’. shakespeare compare thee to a summer in one of his poems, ‘shall i compare thee to a summer’s day? thou art more lovely and more temperate’” 
so different living surroundings may produce different idioms in different language and different culture.
3.2 different cognitions of things
because of the differences between eastern and western cultures, people have greatly different cognitions of things, and this exerts a great influence on the differences of the outcome of both chinese and english idioms.
3.2.1 different cognitions of animals
english and chinese belong to two different language families. chinese belongs to the han-tibetan language family. being limited to the living conditions, climate and so on, several animals find the same environment on which they rely for existence as the human being. these animals and the human beings are interdependent. while the man are the most emotional animals that give the animals different affection, as a result, the symbolic meaning of the animals vary greatly.
the cattle had once done great contributions to chinese agriculture in history, so
there emerged idioms concerning this animal, such as “力大如牛”，“倔犟如牛”，“鞭打快牛”，etc. for the english, horse is used as an important tool whose merits and contributions are outstanding. consequently, there are equivalent idioms having the same meaning as chinese idioms in english, such as “as strong as a horse”, “as stubborn as a mule” and “the horse that draws best is most whipped.” besides, the british advocate horsemanship. they like raising horses and holding horse-races. thus there are a great number of idioms concerning horse, such as: “dark horse”, “eat like a horse”, “bet on the wrong horse”, “change horse in mid-stream”, “hold one’s horse”, etc.
in western culture, the cunning fox specially likes eating the goose surreptitiously. if leaving the fox to look after the geese alone, wouldn’t it mean looking for trouble? we have no such knowledge in chinese. thereby, the english idiom “set a fox to keep one’s geese”（让狐狸看鹅）would be quite baffling to the chinese. but there is an identical idiom in chinese ——“引狼入室”which means the same thing as “set a fox to keep one’s geese”. both of the two idioms are translated correspondingly and vividly.
it is worth mentioning that, in chinese’s eyes, tiger is the king of wild animals. it
has rich cultural symbolized meaning, including the commendatory connotation, such as valor, grandeur and might, as well as the derogatory connotation of cruelty, savageness and ferociousness. while in english culture, lion is the king of all animals, consequently, there are obviously much more english idioms concerning lion than the chinese idioms concerning tiger, so that “we often translate lion into ‘虎’ in english translation, such as ‘a lion in the way’(拦路虎), ‘place oneself in the lion’s mouth’(深入虎穴)”,etc.
3.2.2 different cognitions of colors
there are three kinds of basic colors: red, yellow and blue. colors are cognized mainly through the seven kinds of colors: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and purple in the spectrum. due to the different countries’ historical backgrounds, geographical locations, customs and traditions, people have diverse cognitions of colors, so the idioms rising under the conditions reflect such regional differences.
taking “red” and “white” for example, in western countries, red is regarded as brutality and unluckiness. red means bleeding. so there appears some having derogatory and taboo color words, such as “red skin（对印第安人的鄙夷称呼），red tape（繁文缛节，官僚习气）,in the red（亏损）,out of red（扭亏为盈）, red alert（空袭、紧急警报）, red cock（纵火引起的火灾）, red cent（毫无价值的事物）etc.”  while in china, red means luck and joy. there are many chinese idioms obviously having complimentary sense, such as开门红 (get off to have a good start), 红颜薄命 (a beautiful girl has an unfortunate life), 红运当头(have a good luck), 红光满面 (in the pink), 红男绿女(gaily dressed young men and women), 红得发紫(extremely popular), 红极一时（enjoy popularity for a time）, 红装素裹（clad in white, adorned in red）,etc.
people in western countries look upon white as the symbol of purity, as well as some implications of racial discrimination. the westerners are white people who entrust extremely noble symbol to white. in english there are：white hat（好人），white lies （善意的谎言）， white--headed boy（宠儿），the white hope（带来荣誉的人），white slavery（逼良为娼——西方人认为白种人不能做奴隶），etc. however it is different in china. in chinese’s eyes, white stands for funeral and revolt, which has derogatory color. for example, there are白日做梦(indulge in wishful thinking), 白费口舌(waste one’s breath),一穷二白(poor and blank),白忙乎(in vain) ,白字连篇(reams of wrong characters), 白云苍狗(white clouds change into grey dogs-the changes in human affairs often take freakish forms)etc.
3.2.3 different cognitions of numerals
numeral worship and taboo exist both in eastern and western courtiers, however, the people in the two countries have totally different cognitions of numerals.
in the west, “13” is regarded as an unlucky number, owing to the story in the bible that jesus christ was betrayed by his 13th disciple judas. “666” symbolizes demon in the bible. “7” stands for good luck, great prosperity and victory. but there is no particular connotation of “9” at all in english. the examples are: in the seventh heaven（极其快乐）, the seventh day（星期六——犹太人安息日）, etc. in china, “13”, “666”, “7” have no special meanings, therefore, there is no taboo usage of them. however, “six”(六)、 “nine”(九) have peculiar cultural connotations to the chinese people. “nine”(九). means a long period of peace and order or lasting political stability in chinese traditional culture. the emperors of the past dynasties worshipped “nine”(九), hoping his country could be in great peace and order. there are chinese idioms concerning “nine”(九), such as “九九归一” ,“九死一生”etc. “six”(六) means that something goes on smoothly in chinese，there are“六六大顺”“六畜兴旺”etc. meanwhile, chinese people place the allegorical meaning on the even number, such as “双喜临门”、“四季发财”、“八面玲珑”etc. “it is calculated that there are far more chinese idiom using numerals than the english idioms, which is a difficult problem to the translation.”
3.3 different religions and beliefs
religion plays an important role in the development of the language. different religions produce different idioms. buddhism has been transmitted to china for more than one thousand years, which occupies the leading position in chinese traditional religions.
people believe there is a “buddha” who can dominate the world and decide everyone’s destine. many chinese idioms come form buddhism, such as “佛口蛇心”、“佛头着粪”、“借花献佛”、“五体投地”、“一尘不染”、“现身说法”、“回头是岸”、“在劫难逃”、“大慈大悲”etc. there are also proverbs coming from buddhism. for example,“不看僧面看佛面”、 “闲时不烧香，临时抱佛脚”、“跑得了和尚跑不了庙”、“泥菩萨过河，自身难保”、“放下屠刀，立地成佛”、“一个和尚挑水吃，两个和尚抬水吃，三个和尚没水吃”etc. in western countries especially in britain and america， people believe in christianity. the bible has been regarded the classical christian scripture, which establishes a foundation of western countries’ culture, art and ideology, idioms concerning the bible can be found everywhere. for example, “doubting thomas”（怀疑的托马斯）is an idiom from the bible now stands for “不肯轻易相信别人的人(people who will not believe in others easily)”. and the idiom “cast pearls before swine”（把珍珠丢在猪的面前） is also from the bible: new testament, and now it stands for“not to give the precious things to people who cannot really appreciate it (不要把珍贵的东西送给不识货的人)”or“not to play the lute to a cow (不要对牛弹琴)”. “go to hell（下地狱去）”is a curse. others are like “ ‘a lion in the way’, ‘nobody is born learned, even bishops are made of men.’, ‘it’s better to reign in hell than serve in heaven.’, ‘bad priests bring the devil into the church’ ‘judas kiss’, ‘a dead dog’, ‘ the apple of one’s eye’(掌上明珠) , ‘wash one’s hands of a thing’(洗手不干), etc.”
besides, there are many proverbs in english based on the metaphors and themes of god and demon. for example: man proposes, god disposes(谋事在人,成事在天); god helps those who help themselves. (自助者必有天助。); everyone for himself and the devil take the hindmost.(人不为己，天诛地灭。)
3.4 different historical allusions and myths
there are lots of idioms coming from historical allusions, myths and legends. the structure of these idioms is very simple but they have profound meaning, so we can not translate and understand these idioms from the literal meaning. it’s necessary for us to learn and understand the english allusion and myths as well as the chinese allusions and myths. it’s useful to learn about the origin and development of english and chinese language and culture. for example“东施效颦”it is from《庄子·天运》and now it means imitating somebody stupidly. “名落孙山”it refers to a person who fail in the exam and is not enrolled.“叶公好龙”means a person who professed love of what one really fears. other allegorical stories like“守株待兔”、“愚公移山”、“黔驴技穷”、“刻舟求剑”are often quoted and widely loved by chinese people. the ancient myths and legends also produce lots of idioms. in chinese, such set phrases as“嫦娥奔月”、“夸父追月”、“画龙点睛”“精卫填海”、“女祸补天”are all pieces of beautiful and touching myths. the proverbs “天冷不冻织女手，饥荒不饿苦耕人”and“雷公先唱歌，有雨也不多”contain the legendary characters.
while english traditional culture is deeply associated with the greek roman myth. for instance, the trojan horse（特洛伊木马）, “pandora’s box”（潘多拉之盒，指灾难，麻烦，祸害的根源）”, archilles’ heel”（阿基里斯的脚后跟，指唯一致命弱点）, “meet one’s waterloo”（一败涂地）, penelope’s web（铂涅罗铂的织物，指永远完不成的工作）， “crocodile’s tears” （鳄鱼的眼泪）, it is just like the chinese idiom “猫哭老鼠假慈悲”etc.
“there are also many set phrases based on the greek roman legends. for example: i fear the greeks, even when bringing gifts(greek gifts: 危险的礼物；糖衣炮弹) . when greek meets greek, then comes the tug of war. homer sometimes nods.” 
4. the problems in english-chinese and chinese-english idiom translation
when we do the idiom translation, we may come across this kind of or that kind of problems inevitably. the thesis will give some typical problems in both english-chinese and chinese-english idiom translation.
4. 1the problems in english-chinese idiom translation
4.1.1 interpreting the english idioms too literally
we know that some english idioms look very similar to some chinese idioms in the forms. people are prone to associate the english words and expressions which they come across with the chinese meaning or chinese version mechanically. as a matter of fact, in many situations, though english and chinese have the similar forms, they have different meanings, that is they are seemingly in harmony but actually at variance.
for example: 1)pull somebody’s leg.
wrong translation: 拉后腿
2) move heaven and earth
wrong translation: 翻天覆地
the problem often occurs when we do the translation. we should try our best to avoid it and get close to the original implied meaning not only by the literal meaning.
4.1.2 copying chinese customary sayings mechanically
after all, english and chinese are two completely different languages. many english idioms and chinese idioms always reflect respective national characteristics or local colors. so when doing the translation, we have to pay attention to remain the distinguishing features and avoid applying chinese idioms which have distinctive national or local flavor to the english idioms mechanically, in case that chinese national features and local colors are imposed on the translated version, which would contradict to the context.
for example: 1)two heads are better than one.
original translation: 三个臭皮匠胜过诸葛亮
2) when the cat’s away, the mice will play.
original translation; 山中无老虎，猴子称大王
in the above mentioned examples, the original translations impose the strong chinese national colors on the translated version, which are incompatible with the original text. we should do some transformation like these:
1) two heads are better than one.
transformed translation: 一人不及两人智
2) when the cat’s away the nice will play.
after some transformations, not only do the english idioms remain the original meanings but also avoid unnecessary conflicts and contradictions caused by different national cultures.
4.1.3 lacking in necessary explanatory notes
some english idioms have marked national features and local flavor, and some also contain the allusions. when they are translated into chinese, the chinese must be followed by the explanatory notes for supporting the original meaning in order not to cause the readers’ unnecessary guessing even misunderstanding.
for example, “ the english idiom ‘ a chinese chance’ doesn’t mean ‘中国人的机会’, but it means ‘没有机会’.” we should note clearly in the translation like this: the idiom came into being in the gold rush in california in 19th century. it refers to that the chinese emigrants did their utmost to wash the gold dregs left over by the white men. it can be well imagined they could obtain very little amount of gold. consequently, the white men who gloated over the chinese plight call the awkward situation as “a chinese chance”. then the readers could understand the genuine connotation of this idiom.
4.2 the problems in chinese-english idiom translation
4.2.1copying the english meaning in the dictionary mechanically
there may be several translations for one idiom. the translation of an idiom may be different from that of the same idiom in a dictionary. a dictionary translation needs to reproduce both the form and the content of the idiom while a context translation needs to be fit for its particular situation. therefore, we should make some changes accordingly instead of copying the translation in a dictionary mechanically.
“usually, the translation of‘谋事在人，成事在天’is ‘man proposes, god disposes’. but in the translation of a dream of red mansions, it was rewritten.
‘man proposes, heaven disposes.’ work out a plan, trust to buddha, and something may come of it for all you know.(translated by yang xianyi)”
‘buddha’ is a buddhist term while “god” is a christian term. in order to make the text coherent, “god” is changed into “heaven”.
4.2.2neglecting the chinese idiom local or national colors in the translation
in contexts, idioms which have much local or national colours could not be translated equivalently.
the idiom ‘小人有眼不识泰山’ is similar in meaning to ‘ to entertain an angel unawares’. but both of the two idioms have much local color. “泰山”(mount tai) which is a geographical term is one of the famous mountains in china. the idiom means ‘to fail to identify a person of great ability.’ the idiom ‘to entertain an angel unawares’ is from the new testament. the original is ‘to be not forgetful to entertain strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.’ it can be translated into ‘有眼无珠’. therefore jackson translated the sentence like this:
‘i failed to recognize your eminence and i hope that you will forgive me for that blunder.’ ” 
in the example, “有眼不识泰山” was translated freely, and its local colors were lost.
4.2.3interpreting the chinese idioms too complicatedly
many chinese idioms are antithetical phrases. each of them consists of two parts which mean the same thing. it’s enough to translate one of them. taking the chinese idiom “ 土崩瓦解” for example, someone may translate it into “soil collapses and tile breaks up”. actually speaking, we just need to translate it into “ to fall apart”. another example “沉鱼落雁之容，闭月羞花之貌”,there may appear “fish” “wild goose” “moon” “flower” in the translation which are extremely complicated. we only need to choose one thing instead of all to translate it into “ her beauty would put the flowers to shame.”
5. methods used in idiom translation
the translation of english and chinese idioms is an extremely important problem. it’s well known that translation is not only the communication between the two languages, but also the communication and transmission of the two kinds of cultural information. idioms are a vast storehouse of cultural information, containing a host of cultural characteristics and cultural backgrounds as well as distinctive images and abundant association, therefore, idioms as “ the essence of the language” are difficult to understand and even more difficult to translate.
to counter the vast differences between english and chinese idioms and the particular difficulties generated by the differences, there are five relatively practical methods that could be used in idioms translation.
5.1 literal translation with explanation
it is difficult for the chinese readers to thoroughly understand the implied meaning when some english idioms are translated too literally. yet if they are translated freely, their original images and styles cannot be preserved. to adopt the literal translation with explanation, not only can the readers see its original meaning, images and styles, but also their implied meaning. though the translation will be somewhat wordy and overlaborate, it could demonstrate the original natural colors. “this method is often applied to dictionary compiling.” for example,
(there is) no rose without a thorn. 没有不带刺的玫瑰（世上没有十全的幸福；有乐必有苦。）
an old dog will learn no new tricks(you cannot teach old dogs new tricks) 老狗学不出新把戏。（老顽固不能学新事物。）
a good dog deserves a good bone. 好狗应该得好骨头。（有功者受奖。）
under similar circumstances, it is difficult for the english readers to understand the implied meanings when some chinese idioms are translated into english too literally. consequently, the explanatory notes are necessary. for example,
膏粱子弟 the children from well-fed families (good-for-nothing sons and daughters of the idle rich)
高屋建瓴 pour water off a steep roof (operate from a strategically advantageous position)
“strictly speaking, the translation with explanation is not a good method in translating a piece of works. but in a dictionary of idiom, it is necessary to dig out the sources of some idioms. this is one of the differences between idioms translation in dictionary and in context.”
5.2 literal translation with association
because of the cultural differences between the chinese-speaking and the english-speaking countries, although some chinese idioms and english idioms have the basically similar connotations or metaphorical meaning, they have utterly different
expressions. for these kinds of idioms, literal translation with association is better, i.e., the literal translation is easy for the readers to associate it with their familiar idioms. for example,
bad workmen often blame their tools.
he who laughs at crooked men should need walk very straight.
it’s a long lane that has no turning.
the literal translation with association enables the readers to understand the original meaning better and more thoroughly. it may after all be accepted as a good way to do the translation job.
5.3 transformation of meanings
some english idioms and chinese idioms have more or less equivalent meaning. the only difference between them lies just in their images and styles, and it only needs some slight transformation while in the process of translation, then it could express its original meaning entirely, at the same time, not violate the original idioms’ structures and habits. for example,
“one swallow does not make a summer.”, the original meaning of the proverb is “only finding one swallow cannot show the coming of summer enough”. there is no completely equivalent proverb in chinese. but in chinese there are “一花不是春”and “一木不成林” whose meanings are similar to it, only the images and styles are slightly different.
there are other examples:
he’s not honest to you; he’s turning you around his finger.
the idiom “turn / twist a person around a finger” is translated literally into “把某人玩弄于手指间”. it seems that it could be translated into “玩弄某人于股掌之间” reluctantly. but it should be noted that the implied meaning of the sentence is “to buy people’s support or to win somebody over by any means without sincere heart, while “玩弄某人于股掌之间” may have certain political colors.
for months after her husband’s death, joan simply ate her heart out.
the chinese idiom “悲痛欲绝”can be translated literally like the following: someone is sad to death., which is not better than the quotation of english idiom “eat one’s heart out” which is more vivid to the readers.
though the original meaning has been slightly changed, the translation turns out to be more vivid and livelier, furthermore, the readers could have a better understanding.
5.4 application of chinese couplet
the proverbs in chinese are often seen in the forms of couplet. the first line of a couplet is about the image, and the second is about the meaning. for example,“路遥知马力，日久见人心”、“棋逢对手，将遇良才”，etc. some english idioms cannot be expressed exactly and integratedly in the process of translation in a few chinese characters. it would be better for the translation results using the form of couplet. for example, “great men are not always wise”, its literal translation is “伟人也不总是聪明的” which means “even the clever person will behave as a fool sometimes”. if we adopt the form of couplet, we can translate it into “人有失手日，马有失蹄时”or “老虎也会打盹，好马也会失蹄” or “智者千虑，必有一失”. there are more other examples:
ill news comes apace.
he who keeps company with the wolf will learn to howl.
application of chinese couplet is a way to give full play to the advantages of chinese. the translators could express the original meaning exactly and vividly to the best of their ability by applying this method. the outcome will turn out to compare favorably with the original.
5.5 equal consideration of both images and meanings
because of the vast differences between the cultures of the two nations that speak chinese and english respectively, though some of each idioms have similar connotations or figurative meanings basically, their ways of expressions are of great disparity. on this question, these kinds of idioms translation should give equal consideration of both images and meanings.
they put their heads together and decided on a gift.
“put their heads together” means putting everybody’s heads together to think of a way or try to find a solution, and it is translated into “碰头商量” here, which appears to be vivid and successful.
gorge was enjoying himself to the top of his head.
“the top of his head” means top revelry. “top” refers to “the extremely highest point”. so the translation “快乐到了极点” is just appropriate.
“顺理成章” means “well reasoned” in chinese, while in english there is an idiom “to be in the cards” which means “something is very likely to happen or sth. will happen in the expected way”. according to the further meaning of the sentence, we can translate it into “it was in the cards for the son to succeed his father as head of the business.”
“化为乌有” means “leave nothing” or “come to naught” in chinese, while the english idiom “go down the drain” means “flow away by the sewage” by literal translation whose figurative meaning is “nearly lost everything”. so we can translate the sentence like this: his life savings went down the drain in a bad investment.
to use this translation method, not only could the readers understand the original meaning, but also they could appreciate the styles of the words and the images that the original is inclined to convey.
translation is not merely from one language to another, but also to introduce the cultural backgrounds, habits and customs, cultural traditions and others of the original, so is the translation of idioms which are rich in strong national and local colors, that is to say, we should always keep the target readers in mind when we are doing the translation. therefore, it is not easy to translate one kind of language idioms. we should do more practices, pay more attention, accumulate more knowledge, consult the dictionaries for the unknown more often, and ask the experts for more advice at ordinary times, besides, we also have to do desultory reading of the bible, the fables of aesop, w.shakespeare’s plays, fairy tales and other classical masterpieces in western culture. in a word, when translating the idioms, we should keep faithful to the original, remaining the original idioms’ vivid comparison, rich association, rhetorical effects, national and local colors, meanwhile, we should try our best to do the translation more vividly and more expressively.
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