I am interested in finding some examples of four-character idioms that contain exactly a pair of allusions, different in source but similar in nature, that were often compiled by a specific literary author. Consider the following:

Idiom Allusive pair Source
成仁取義 孔曰成仁,孟曰取義 文天祥《自贊》
泣歧悲染 楊朱泣歧路,墨子悲染 阮籍《詠懷》
環肥燕瘦 短長肥瘦各有態,玉環飛燕誰敢憎 蘇東坡《孫莘老求墨妙亭詩》
沈魚落雁 毛嬙、麗姬,人之所美也,魚見之深入,鳥見之高飛 《莊子·齊物論》
顏筋柳骨 曼卿之筆,顏筋柳骨 范仲淹《祭石學士文》

Some have separate sources:

Idiom Allusion 1 Allusion 2
懸樑刺股 (蘇秦)讀書欲睡,引錐自刺其股,血流至足(劉向《戰國策·秦策一》) (孫敬)及至眠睡疲寢,以繩系頭懸屋梁(班固《漢書》)
閉月羞花 彷彿兮若輕雲之蔽月(曹植《洛神賦》) 秀色掩今古,荷花羞玉顏(李白《西施》)
斷袖分桃 不欲動賢,乃斷袖而起(《漢書·佞幸傳》) 食桃而甘,不盡,以其半啖君(韓非子《說難》)
結草銜環 顆見老人結草以亢杜回(《左氏傳·宣公》) 白環四枚與寶(吳均《續齊諧記》)

Examples of what I do not consider as four-character idioms that contain an allusive pair:

  • 撲朔迷離: the two are not distinct in terms of their source, as there is no further allusion in the《木蘭辭》couplet 雄兔腳撲朔,雌兔眼迷離.
  • 南陽諸葛廬,西蜀子雲亭: the two are indeed two separate individuals in 劉禹錫《陋室銘》, but the expression is not idiomatic enough, let alone reducible into a four-character idiom.

I am sure there are more idioms like so, but I cannot think of a specific repertoire for this purpose (nor any more illustrative examples!) at the moment.

3 Answers 3


According to a research, about half (2171 out of 4954) of four-character chengyus contain pairs.

So all you need to do is going through them and see if they contain allusions. 😂 That might be difficult because some allusions are not very obvious.

Here are some examples (Sorry for mixing simplified and traditional characters. They are copied from different dictionaries.) :

囊萤映雪 - 囊萤:晋代车胤,小时家贫,夏天以练囊装萤火虫照明读书;映雪:晋代孙康冬天常利用雪的反光读书。形容学习刻苦勤奋。

偷香竊玉 - 偷香指賈充女與韓壽私通的故事。見「偷香」條。竊玉指鄭生事。見「竊玉」條。偷香竊玉指男女私通。

讓棗推梨 - 讓棗,指南朝王泰不與諸兄爭棗栗的故事。見《南史.卷二二.王曇首傳》。推梨,指東漢孔融讓梨與兄的故事。見《後漢書.卷七○.孔融傳》。後以讓棗推梨比喻兄弟間的友愛。

光怪陸離 - 「光怪」,離奇怪異的樣子。語出《吳書》。「陸離」,參差錯雜的樣子。語出戰國楚.屈原〈離騷〉。「光怪陸離」形容現象離奇怪異,色彩參差錯雜。


“文过饰非”: 《论语·子张》:“小人之过也,必文。”《庄子·盗跖》:“辩足以饰非。”

  • Upvoted your answer, but it still strikes me that whoever coined the idiom did not make a deliberate allusion to the sources, however true they may be. Perhaps they are more etymological than allusive.
    – L Parker
    Feb 26, 2021 at 6:05

天涯海角 - 南朝陳·徐陵《武皇帝作相時與嶺南酋豪書》:“天涯藐藐,地角悠悠了

酒池肉林 - 《史記·殷本紀》:“以,懸

名正言順 - 《論語‧子路》「,言不順則事不利。」

車水馬龍 - 《東觀漢記.卷六.外戚列傳.明德馬皇后》:「如流如游。」

五光十色 - 南朝梁·江淹《丽色赋》:“五光徘徊,十色陆离

珠圓玉潤 - 唐人張文琮〈詠水〉詩中有「方流涵玉潤折動光」二句

瓜田李下 - 古樂府 《君子行》:“瓜田不納履,李下不整冠。”

水深火熱 - 《孟子.梁惠王下》如,如

  • I upvoted your answer, but I'm afraid these are not quite what I'm looking for. Though there is definitely pairedness in these idioms, the writers did not seem to have made any allusion, or reference, to two past events or persons.
    – L Parker
    Feb 26, 2021 at 6:06

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