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Another Look at the Origin of  “In for a Penny, in for a Pound”

Idioms are incredibly imperative in language learning. It helps the learner to delve into the cultural contexts of the language. After all, idiomatic expressions are not merely embellishments of a language. Neither is it only a creative way of expressing oneself. Idioms are more profound than that. It opens new doors for understanding local semantics. Additionally, it helps language learners to converse with locals. Not only will all these boost fluency, but they will also give language learners a new avenue for effective communication.

With that said, let us delve into this Chinese idiom: “一不做,二不休 ( yī bū zuò,èr bù xiū ).” It means “being determined to go the whole hog,” or “once started, go through with it.” The idiom is the western equivalent of “in for a penny, in for a pound.” Its usage essentially applies to any daunting tasks. It is a show of determination to finish the job, despite the problems along the way.  

chinese yi bu zuo er bu xiu
Image from Internet

In the last lesson, we explored the archaic origin of the idiom. We delved into the rich yet sad world of Zhang Guangsheng, an ingenious military official struck down by the people of his master. However, there’s another story that explains the origin of this idiom. The other tale entails a whimsical and fun element. After all, the story reflects the literal side of the idiom. It is a good idea to merely take the story at its face value.

Once upon a time, there were two mountains. One mountain lived with the monk “Yixiu,” and the other mountain lived with the monk “Erxiu.” Since there was no water on the summit, Yixiu and Erxiu went down to fetch water every day.  They collected water during the first and second holidays. Subsequently, the two quickly became good friends.

One day, when Erxiu went to fetch water, he realized that Yixiu hadn’t even appeared. He thought: “Perhaps Yixiu is sick.” and immediately brushed it off. The next day, Erxiu went to pick up water again still, but Yixiu was nowhere. That alarmed Erxiu. Due to his worry, he decided to visit Yixiu. After going up the mountain, he found Yixiu was doing Tai Chi under the big tree.

Erxiu asked in surprise: “Yixiu, why didn’t you fetch water and still have water to drink?” Yixiu replied: “For the past three years, I have used my leisure time to dig wells every day after I fetched water. Now, the well is dug already. The water from the well is pouring continuously. From now on, I will never have to go down the mountain to carry water! I can also save a lot of time and do what I like.”

Therefore, Yixiu no longer has to fetch water, but Erxiu still cannot rest.

Yixiu sacrificed years of his leisure time to build a well.  It tormented him for years as he hadn’t done the things he loved. However, he persevered. He kept digging the hole despite the hardships he faced. He did not falter and gave up along the way. Instead, he saw the task through.

Consequently, it bored goodness. Now, not only does he not need to exert effort in fetching water down the mountains, but he can also do the things he loves without hindrances.

Above is another Look at the Origin of one of the Chinese idioms “一不做,二不休 ( yī bū zuò,èr bù xiū ) In for a Penny, in for a Pound”.


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