I recently read about this idiom and its story. I know what it actually means. But when it comes to character by character translation, I struggled. I asked some of my Chinese friends, but they didn't reply. I checked from a dictionary application named Pleco. It shows:

塞: strategic pass, tactical border position

翁:elderly man, father, father-in-law, a surname

The mobile app of Baidu Translate just returns saiweng as the meaning when I type both. When I search for one by one, it shows:

塞: stopper, a place of strategic importance

翁: old man, father, a surname

So, this made me confused. My Chinese is not really good. I wanted to ask: 塞翁 is the name of a person or means "old man" as translated in English versions? Or is there any other meaning when it comes to character by character translation?

Also when I need to romanize it, should I write as "Saiweng" or "Sai Weng"?

Any help would be highly appreciated.

1 Answer 1


Baidu Baike has character by character explanation:




The explanations of you found is correct, and "塞翁" means an old man living in a tactical border position.

  • Thanks for the answer. So, if 塞翁 is not a name of a person, should I romanize it as "sai weng" or "saiweng"? I guess these two don't create a complete word, but I just want to be sure.
    – mulaixi
    Nov 24, 2020 at 10:07
  • @mulaixi Not sure about how it should be Romanized.
    – fefe
    Nov 24, 2020 at 10:13
  • 1
    @mulaixi As it's an idiom which doesn't divide easily into a 2+2 structure, it falls under 4.8.2 here and should all be written as one orthographic word in Pinyin transcription.
    – Michaelyus
    Nov 24, 2020 at 15:08
  • @Michaelyus Thank you very much for the information and the source. Here they wrote all separately. But the link you provided seems more reliable.
    – mulaixi
    Nov 24, 2020 at 15:15
  • 1
    塞翁失马 is a very well known story which is often included in textbooks for learners of Chinese. The most usual English translation is along the lines of "The old man on the frontier loses a horse". If the old man did not live near the frontier, he would be very unlikely to own horses or to tame wild horses.
    – yutu
    Nov 25, 2020 at 0:31

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