Chinese Phrase: 一桶水不响, 半桶水晃荡

One of my personal favourite Chinese phrases that resonates deeply with me is 一桶水不响, 半桶水晃荡 yī tǒng shuǐ bù xiǎng, bàn tǒng shuǐ huàngdang. “A full bucket of water is not noisy, A half bucket of water sloshes.” — here’s a video explanation I made on my Youtube Channel 

 

Explanation

The phrase is a metaphor, it compares people’s wisdom or knowledge to a bucket of water, referring to the level of the water.

Simply put, the wisest and most knowledgeable among us are generally quiet people, they go on in “quiet understanding”, not needing to make much noise and quite self-assured.

The less wise or knowledgeable among us are often desperately trying to assert themselves. They make a lot of noise and speak often, trying to establish or “position” themselves as wise or knowledgeable.

The beauty of this phrase is it articulates this seeming irony: The wisest and smartest are also often quiet people. “A full bucket of water is not noisy, A half bucket of water sloshes.”

Characters

一 yī — one
桶 tǒng — the quantifier for a bucket
水 shuǐ — water

一桶水 yī tǒng shuǐ — a full bucket of water

不bù — doesn’t
响xiǎng — make noise

半bàn — half
桶 tǒng — the quantifier for a bucket
水 shuǐ — water

半桶水 bàn tǒng shuǐ — half a bucket of water

晃荡huàngdang — sloshes

Beautiful phrase.

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