Do the Chinese have a romantic proverb about spit?
Well, as it turns out, yes, they do!
Xiangruyimo (相濡以沫Xiāngrúyǐmò) translates literally as ‘to moisten with spittle’, or more symbolically as ‘sharing meager resources / mutual help in humble circumstances’.
This curious proverb was first coined by Daoist author and philosopher Zhuangzi (庄子 Zhuāngzǐ, 475-221 BCC), who described being moved by the humble actions of two fish in a dried out pool. These fish appeared to be blowing wet bubbles onto each other, effectively using their spit to maintain each other’s moisture under the heat of the sun, and thus, avoiding near-certain death.
Let’s take a moment to look at the different characters in this proverb.
相 as in ‘互相’ (hùxiāng) means ‘each other’ or ‘mutual’
濡 (rú) means ‘to moisten’
以 (yǐ) is a common character in ancient Chinese and here it would translate as ‘by means of’
沫 (mò) from ‘口沫’ (kǒumò) is spittle, saliva
This is a much-used idiom in Chinese and is regularly used to describe couples who help each other in times of need.
Whilst the images that come to mind when we hear the word ‘spit’ might not be the most romantic, the sentiment of helping our partners in difficult times is echoed in the English language marriage vow ‘for better or for worse’.
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