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临阵磨枪 临时抱佛脚

Both seem to mean "preparing in the last minute".

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Yes, "Both seem to mean "preparing in the last minute"

The subtle differences are:-

In 临阵磨枪, it means to make preparations, (more in the physical sense), for whatever dire emergencies only at the last moment. It is about "habitual indolence"

In 临急抱佛脚, (the full phrase being, 平时不烧香,临时抱佛脚), it means not taking care of important, critical matters as one should when there is time, but seek assistance, help only when it is already too late. It is about the "arrogance of over self-confidence"

BTW, why 抱佛脚? (Hugging Buddha's foot)

Well, in the old, ancient days, people asked or begged for help or mercy by kneeling and hugging the legs of the person from whom help was sought. Hence, 临时抱佛脚 is more about asking for help rather than making last minute preparations as in 临阵磨枪

There is another comparable one, (which is also found in a similar English proverb), is 臨渴掘井, "Digging a well only when thirsty"

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临阵磨枪 -- sharpen your spear when the enemy is upon you

临急抱佛脚 -- holding Buddha's leg and asking for help when crisis is upon you

The difference between 临阵磨枪 and 临急抱佛脚:

临阵磨枪 is 'try to strengthen oneself at the last moment'

临急抱佛脚 is 'try to find external help at the last moment'

临阵磨枪 - Studying hard one week before the final exam; practice hard one week before a big match

临急抱佛脚 - hire a tutor one week before the final exam; hire a coach one week before a big match

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They both describe the same thing.

临阵磨枪 is affirmative, 临时抱佛脚 is negative.

Just like: Cars bring convenience, but also increase traffic risks.

So you can use one of them to fit your scene.

Eg. If you want to prepare well for the exam and get good grades, you can say that preparing for the exam is 临阵磨枪, and if you don't support the effort to prepare for the exam, you can say that it is just 临时抱佛脚.

In Chinese culture, people are self-effacing, if they get a good result, they'll call themselves just 临时抱佛脚.

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  • Yes, the two phrases are flexible enough to be made use of either as "face-saving excuse" for an expected failure, (like not studying and failing the exams, due to 临阵磨枪), or, as an "afterthought self-praise", (like accidentally picking the right exam topics to study and passed with high marks, 临时抱佛脚, which could be interpreted as an unexpected good luck) Yes, only young people these days would see these old sayings like that. Like people exclaiming "WTF"! when met with some unexpected good luck. Jul 22, 2022 at 2:39

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