Idioms. idioms. idioms. They are hard to learn and even harder to remember for more than 10 minutes! This story explains the meaning behind the idiom 对牛弹琴. The story is quite simple but the characters used to tell it are (in my opinion) fairly advanced. The idiom 对牛弹琴 is most commonly used to describe giving or talking about something to someone who is unappreciative. It is a very useful idiom and is one of those Chinese idioms that can be casually used in conversation. There are another couple of idioms used in the story that will be mentioned in the key words below.

There are also a couple of comprehension questions to see if you have understood the passage and also a voice recording of this passage being read by a Chinese TV host specifically for this website!

Key Words

A few words that might be useful to know before reading through.

如醉如痴- To be intoxicated by or to be entranced by.

竖起耳朵 – To prick up ones ears. Often used with 听 immediately after as in ‘to prick up ones ears and listen’.

动听 – You probably know 好听, but 动听 can also be used, although this is heard much less frequently.

Playing the Lute to a Cow

(Hover over the Chinese for pinyin)

春秋时期,鲁国有个著名的音乐家,名字叫公明仪。他对音乐有极深的造诣,善于弹琴。他的琴声优美动听,人们听到如此美妙的琴声之后往往如醉如痴。

有一年的春天,他带着琴来到城郊的田野散步,和煦的春风将青草的芳香吹到他的面前,让他心情非常舒畅。他环顾四周,发现不远处有一头大公牛正在吃草。他兴致勃发,突发奇想要为这头公牛演奏一曲,于是他拨动琴弦,对着这头公牛弹奏了。

虽然公明仪弹奏的曲子非常悦耳动听,但是那头吃草的牛儿却根本不理会那高雅的曲调,仍然低着头继续吃草。因为公牛虽然能听到琴弦发出的声音,但是并不能理解曲子中的美妙意境。

公明仪见美妙的琴声并不能打动这头不懂音乐的牛,非常无奈。过了一会儿,他又想出了一个办法。公明仪抚动琴弦,弹出一段段奇怪杂乱的声音,有的像嗡嗡的蚊蝇声,有的像迷路的小牛犊发出的叫声。这时候这头大公牛才像突然明白了什么似的,摇摇尾巴,竖起耳朵,听了起来。

后来,人们就用“对牛弹琴”来比喻对愚蠢的人讲深刻的道理,或对外行人说内行话,白白浪费时间;现在也用来讥笑人说话不看对象。

Difficult translations

Here are a few sentences from the above passage translated into English.

音乐造诣,善于弹琴

We can translate this to “He had a deep understanding of music and played beautifully.”

因为公牛虽然听到琴弦发出声音,但是并不理解曲子中的美妙意境。

“Although oxen can hear the instrument, they are simply unable to comprehend the concept of beautiful music.”

有的嗡嗡声,有的迷路牛犊发出叫声

Using 有的 you can create sentences similar to the one above, it is a great way to form longer sentences.

“Some sounded like the buzzing of mosquitoes while others sounded like the bleating of lost calves”

 

Questions

Here are some comprehension questions for you to answer in the comment’s section below.

  1. 第一自然段,“如醉如痴”是什么意思?
  2. 仿照 “有的像嗡嗡的蚊蝇声,有的像迷路的小牛犊发出的叫声”,用 “有的像……有的像……”造句。

Comment below

If you have have comments or feedback or simply want to practice using some Chinese you have just learnt, comment below! Thanks for reading.