Chinese Idiom: 望梅止渴 - To quench one’s thirst by thinking of plums

July 21, 2022

望梅止渴 wàng méi zhǐ kě 'To quench one’s thirst by thinking of plums.'

Today, we want to share the story behind the popular idiom “望梅止渴" wàng méi zhǐ kě with you.

It comes from the Southern Song dynasty, in Shì Shuō Xīn Yǔ, which translates to ‘A New Account of the Tales of the World’ by Liú Yìqìng. This is a collection of anecdotes, historical stories and character sketches. This particular idiom comes from tales of Number 27, Guile and Chicanery, or jiǎ jué.

It is roughly translated as “false hope” in English. We have included both the Chinese and the English versions of the story below.

Now, let's find out what it really means…

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有一次,曹操率领大军去作战,经过一片荒山野岭。这时正值夏天,烈日高照,大地被烤得滚烫。因为找不到水,将士们口干舌燥,有气无力,行军的速度越来越慢。

曹操心中万分着急,怎么办呢?忽然,他灵机一动,骑马跑到队伍前面的一块高地上,挥鞭向前一指,对将士们高声喊道:“前面有一大片梅林,树上结满了梅子,可以解渴,大家快去吃吧!”

将士们一听到“梅子”,马上想起梅子又酸又甜的味道,口水都要流出来了,顿时不觉得那么渴了,个个打起精神往前赶路,不久就走到了有水的地方。

Once, Cáocāo, a famous statesman, was leading his troops to fight a battle, crossing barren mountains and untamed land. It was the height of summer. The sun was unrelenting, and the ground was roasting hot. Since the generals and soldiers weren’t able to find the water, they were extremely parched and weak, and their steps slowed by the minute.

Cáocāo was growing more and more worried, what should he do? Suddenly, he had a bright idea. He rode his horse to higher ground in front of the troops and waved his whip towards the front. He shouted back to his men: ‘In front of us is a huge forest of plum trees, the trees are covered in plums, that will quench our thirst! Everyone hurry over and eat them!”

When the generals and soldiers heard ‘plums’, they instantly recounted the sweet and sour taste in their mouths, and their mouths began to water. They immediately stopped feeling thirsty, one by one began to hurry over in high spirit, and it wasn’t long before they found water.

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望梅止渴原意是梅子酸,人想吃梅子就会流涎,因而止渴。后比喻愿望无法实现,用空想安慰自己。This idiom literally means that since plums are sour, even thinking about the plum with make people’s mouths water, and quench their thirst. It is a metaphor for when you have no hope, and you use an empty dream to console yourself.

望 wàng (see)

望wàng

梅 méi (plum)

梅子 méi zi

止 zhǐ (stop)

止zhǐ stop

渴 kě (thirsty)

渴kě

例句(Example Sentences)

面对理想,我们要鼓足干劲,迎难而上,绝不能望梅止渴。
Miàn duì lǐxiǎng, wǒmen yào gǔ zú gànjìng, yíng nán ér shàng, jué bùnéng wàngméizhǐkě.
When facing an ideal, we have to go all out, and face difficulties head-on, and we cannot be holding on to false hope.

他没钱买别墅,只好天天看着房屋广告望梅止渴了。
Tā méi qián mǎi biéshù, zhǐhǎo tiāntiān kànzhe fángwū guǎnggào wàngméizhǐkěle.
He doesn’t have the money to buy a villa, he can only stare at the housing ads with false hope.

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