The Chinese idiom " 不翼而飞" contains the character 翼 meaning wings, but how could one fly without wings?

Here 不翼 = 无翼 ? I'm confused.

I am aware of the fact that the saying means "vanish into the air or disappear without trace".


5 Answers 5


飞 means fly. You leave footsteps if you run away, but you leave no trace if you fly away. It disappeared with no trace and you don't know the reason/how.

It's reasonable if it "has wings" (because there is no trace), but it doesn't have any, so the disappearance makes people wonder how did it happen.

It is an idiom so it doesn't have to be something actually has wings. For example, you can say your book 不翼而飞了。

I don't have enough points to comment yet but 不胫而走 is quite different.

  • 1
    The meaning of 不胫而走 matches the original meaning of 不翼而飞, ( both mean "words spread far and wide easily ) but not the contemporary usage of " something mysteriously disappear" . Nowadays, only 不胫而走 obtains the original meaning
    – Tang Ho
    Commented Oct 6, 2016 at 23:07

It means something disappeared as if it had flown away, and that something probably doesn't have wings.

It originally means words because words spread across the world without wings. Now it just means something disappearing into thin air.

  • 1
    similar term is 不逕而走 ( run away without legs) 「不脛而走」是指不用腿也能走;比喻事物不用推廣,也能迅速傳播的意思
    – Tang Ho
    Commented Oct 6, 2016 at 14:42

I don't study language, here is what I think:

Idioms, or rather, Classical Chinese is grammatically much different than Modern Chinese. Back then, you can have a greater freedom on how you write and words with similar meanings can be used alternatively but in Modern Chinese, we tend to centralize meanings of characters more and use less of the other meanings.

This is the definition of 不: http://xh.5156edu.com/html3/1680.html

用在动词、形容词和其它词前面表示否定或加在名词或名词性语素前面,构成形容词:不去。不多。不法。不料。不材(才能平庸,常用作自谦)。不刊(无须修改,不可磨灭)。不学无术。不速之客。 单用,做否定性的回答:不,我不知道。

So, one meaning of is 没有, but it is not the most commonly used meaning of .


翼 = Wing Yes, here, 不翼 = 无翼

It basically means something is gone in a weird way. For example, you could swear you left something at a certain place and you couldn't find it. You would use this phrase.


不翼而飞 发音:bù yì ér fēi 释义:翼:翅膀。没有翅膀却飞走了。比喻物品忽然丢失。也比喻事情传播得很迅速。 出处:《管子·戒》:“无翼而飞者声也。”《战国策·秦策三》:“众口所移,毋翼而飞。” 示例:足足的一百六十块钱就那样便不翼而飞了。(郭沫若《革命春秋·创造十年》) 近义词:不胫而走 不知去向 反义词:原封不动

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