Chinese Idiom: 王顾左右而言他 (to digress from the topic of discussion)


王顾左右而言他 (bù rù hǔ xué, yān dé hǔ zi)

What does it mean?

  1. To digress from the topic of conversation by going into another subject
  2. To evade and avoid talking about a particular subject in a group discussion
AMERICAN viewers!

We all know former First Lady and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton right?

Do you remember what she did back in 2015 regarding her emails?

During her term as Secretary of State, Clinton was accused of using a private email server for government agenda rather than using one maintained on federal government servers.

Do you remember what she did whenever the public or paparazzi brought this topic up during interviews/ press conferences?

Do you remember what she did when her opponent, Donald Trump, used this topic to challenge her during every presidential debate?

She attempted to evade the main point of her using a private email address.

This is an example of 王顾左右而言他 (wáng gù zuǒ yòu ér yán tā) in its rawest form.

Still confused or are non-American?

Here is another example:

Your 8 year old child asks you the question: Where do babies come from?

Although you know the real truth, you just don’t want to tell it to them just yet.

Hence, you start evading the real answer by coming up with ridiculous stories which can JUST about trick them into believing that’s how they came into this world.

Yep, that’s 王顾左右而言他 (wáng gù zuǒ yòu ér yán tā) right there.

Where does this phrase come from?

Chinese philosopher Mencius went into the imperial palace to speak with Emperor Xuanwang of Qi.

Mencius gave two moral ‘What-would-you-do-if….’ scenarios to the emperor to which he answered easily.

Then, Mencius proceeded to ask the question: What if the affairs of a state are badly ran? (Inferring that Xuanwang is a horrible king)

After hearing the question, Emperor Xuanwang looked left and right, trying to change the topic of conversation. (This action is the literal translation of the idiom!)

Hence, the saying 王顾左右而言他 (wáng gù zuǒ yòu ér yán tā) was formed to describe a person evading a certain topic.

What are the weirdest questions/ topics which your friends or children brought up which you tried to evade?

What would you do if your children asked you the question: Where do babies come from?

Let us know in the comments!

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