Nov. 23rd, 2010

laleia: (Default)
So I love quotes databases because I can do things like search "adversity" and mine through results until I get a quote I like. It is very useful. Know when they're NOT useful? When you try to look up origins of ANY particular quote.

Let me give you an example.

I Googled "Chinese quote adversity" and turned up "A gem cannot be polished without friction, nor a man perfected without trials" which is supposedly a Chinese proverb. A little further digging had people claiming that it was a saying from Confucius, but ... it was one of a long list of pithy sayings that were supposedly Confucian, but without mention of the original Chinese.

So then I Googled the quote and various permutations thereof with additional keywords (and Baidu'd it) trying to find the original Chinese.

I THEN came upon a translation of the quote into Chinese .. BUT the quote was attributed to Seneca, and was a translation of the original quote from Seneca. So then I Googled Seneca, or Lucius Annaeus Seneca, who the Internet ALSO says the quote comes from. However, the blog post that attributed this quote to Seneca and translated it into Chinese had as ITS title "玉不磨不成器" which was a stroke of luck, because I read that and was like "Hmmm ... that's a very similar meaning, but is nowhere near the translation that this post gave, so I wonder where THIS quote comes from."

I Googled it, and came across "玉,不磨不成器,人,不磨不成才" which kind of translates to "Jade needs to be ground down to become a weapon (or tool), people need to be ground down to become talented" (or more literally "Jade, if not ground down, doesn't become a weapon/tool, people, if not ground down, don't become talented/skilled") which is KIND of the same meaning.

Further Baidu searches revealed that the quote is more originally "玉不琢,不成器,人不琢,不成才" (and I'm guessing 琢 is an old-fashioned way of saying 磨) but actually IS mentioned in one of Confucius's books apparently (or at least, one that was allegedly edited by him but nobody knows for sure), I believe, but is also mentioned in 三字经 which was a Confucian book but decidedly NOT written by him.

But I haven't given up on the original quote either! Because I feel the meaning of this Chinese quote and the one I was Googling in English are different enough that the original first quote might indeed have been come up with by a dead Roman guy rather than a dead Chinese guy. (I buy this because Chinese and English have a lot of eerily similar proverbs, which I'd always assumed was because human beings like to make moralistic observations about similar things, so it is possible for Seneca to come up with, and for Confucius to have come up with his, independently of each other.)

But further Googling reveals nothing about the original Latin, and in fact, different quote databases attribute the quote to Cicero, to Seneca, to the Chinese, even to the Dutch! At this point, I'm guessing the Seneca attribution is a mistaken one and the translation really is just a more artful translation of the original Chinese. So then that one guy with the blog post actually took a quote that was translated from Chinese to English, and then translated it BACK into Chinese (resulting in totally different quote) under the misapprehension that he was translating something that was originally translated from Latin.

And the moral of the story is, quote databases suck.

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laleia

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