Thursday, October 11

What 喝西北風 means

Howard Goldblatt's overly literal translation of the idiom 喝西北風 hēxīběifēng in Mo Yan's The Garlic Ballads has always annoyed me.
The phrase is an old metaphor used at least as early as the eighteenth century (in the novel 儒林外史 Ru lin wai shi) and actually means "to go hungry" or even "to starve". It's a dead metaphor, and doesn't really have anything to do with drinking or eating the northwest wind. A similar error appears in From May Fourth to June Fourth: Fiction and Film in Twentieth-Century China by Ellen Widmer & Te-wei Wang.

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