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Draw a Snake and Add Feet to it

Aug 16, 2010

Confort Snake | by {link:http://www.flickr.com/photos/thebigdurian/89595700/}S. Bhansali{/link}

I hope you were not scared by this green snake. If so, I apologize.

“Less is more”. This is a popular motto quoted by graphic designers and lots of other professionals. The opposite is also a good one: “More is less.”

Flowers are beautiful as they are, over decorating them only make them ugly; things should be done appropriately, no more, no less. Overdoing a thing only diminishes it. There is an English idiom about this: Gild the lily.

It’s a common misquotation of a line from William Shakespeare’s 1595 play King John, iv 2:

To gild refined gold, to paint the lily, to throw a perfume on the violet, to smooth the ice, or add another hue unto the rainbow, or with taper-light to seek the beauteous eye of heaven to garnish, is wasteful and ridiculous excess.

In Chinese language, we have a two thousand years old idiom describing the same idea, and as always, it comes with a vivid story.

Draw a snake and add feet to it

An official of the ancient State of Chu awarded a pot of wine to his men after the ceremony of Spring Sacrifice. One man said, “We have only one pot of wine. It’s not enough for all of us but sufficient for one. Let’s determine who’ll have the wine by drawing a snake on the ground. He who finishes first will have the wine.”

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Draw a Snake and Add Feet to it

The others agreed. Very soon, one man finished his snake. He was about to drink the wine when he saw the others were still busy drawing. He said complacently, “How slowly you are !I still have enough time to add feet to my snake.”

But before he finished the feet, another man finished his snake and grabbed the pot from him, saying, “Whoever has seen a snake with feet? Yours is not a snake. So the wine should be mine!” He drank the wine. The man adding feet to the snake had to give in and could only regret his foolishness.

This story was recorded by Liu Xiang (77-6 B.C., West Han Dynasty) in his book Zhan Guo Ce.

From that story comes the idiom “Draw a snake and add feet to it”. Now people use this idiom to illustrate the truth that going too far is as bad as not going far enough.

[Chinese Keywords]
画蛇添足

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