So I am studying idioms and in many cases I come across one whose words I understand but whose meaning must apparently lie in a deeper story. The Wise Talk app gives:

來鴻去燕 (lai2 hong2 qu4 yan4)

[literally] the goose comes, the swallow goes; (always on the move)

In this case, I keep thinking there must be a larger story that would put the entire thing in context.

Any thoughts on the source of the idiomatic expression?

Any resource for etymology of idioms would be appreciated.

  • 2
    来鸿去燕. It is a metaphor for somebody who is always on the move. This phrase comes from a poem of Huang Jingren in Qing Dynasty: "来鸿去燕江干路,露宿风飞各朝暮". (I don't put it as an answer because I'm not sure what 江干路 exactly means. It's too late I have to sleep. I hope there's anyone can help with this.)
    – Stan
    May 25, 2014 at 17:34
  • @Stan Maybe 江干路 is just a road's name.
    – user4072
    May 26, 2014 at 2:27
  • I think 江 here is talking about the 长江, see my answer below for more info.
    – Mou某
    May 26, 2014 at 2:54
  • @Stan - Thanks for your references I will do some more research into the poet.
    – Tommie C.
    May 26, 2014 at 2:59
  • 3
    @Stan It's hard to give a direct evidence, anyway, 江干 means riverside(江畔、江边、江岸), so 江干路 might be a specific road name, or just a common name in South China. And as a specific road name it appears at "西湖快览" and "游杭州纪略", which are travel books published at 1920's, and you can also find 江干路 nowadays at some cities such as 杭州,嘉兴. And in the 黄景仁's poem(sou-yun.com/Query.aspx?type=poem1&id=311995), he mentioned many place names at South China.
    – user4072
    May 26, 2014 at 3:56

1 Answer 1


This was a bit of a challange.

All the information is pretty much the same as Stan commented above.

词语解释 比喻行踪漂泊不定的人。 清 黄景仁 《稚存从新安归作此寄之》诗:“来鸿去燕江干路,露宿风飞各朝暮。”

成语解释 解释 ◎ 比喻行踪漂泊不定的人。 出处 ◎ 清·黄景仁《稚存从新安归作此寄之》诗:“来鸿去燕江干路,露宿风飞各朝暮。” 语法 ◎ 联合式;作宾语、定语;含贬义

None of this really answers the question though. Searches for 来鸿去燕 don't elaborate at all and that's just the problem - it's so easy to over-complicate Chinese; what originally was very simple is very easily complicated by our strange minds.

So let's look at this as simply as we can:

  1. We have 来。。。去。。。a very simple + common construct "to come & to go"

  2. 鸿 & 燕 So let's look in the dictionary for 鸿燕: 汉语大辞典: 鸿雁和燕子。两者均为候鸟。于 长江 一带, 前者秋来春去, 后者秋去春来。 Swan goose & swallow. Two migratory birds. Along the Yangtze River the swan goose comes in the autumn and leaves in the spring, the swallow leaves in the autumn and comes in the spring.

清 方文 《芜阴送钱既白游太湖》诗 我方來爾邑, 爾復去吾鄉。交錯如鴻燕, 拼飛爲稻粱。

We can see the usage here: 交錯如鴻燕 Zigzagging like swans and swallows.

So you can get the feel of the "one comes" the "other leaves" concept.

So we can see 来鸿去燕 is kind of like zigzagging all over the place - leaving and going - coming and going.

  • Thanks for the imagery of the changing seasons/migration patterns along the Yangtze. I think this idea puts this particular idiom into the proper context. It'd be nice if a resource existed to explain these references. I'll continue searching for one.
    – Tommie C.
    May 26, 2014 at 2:57

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