Simple Words

I recently came across this phrase:


I understand each character but the meaning was still lost on me. So I asked someone about this and they informed me that it is somewhat sarcastic reply as if one were to ask you: "how is that matter going..." and that it's meaning might be assessed as:

Hidden Meaning

After some time I still haven't seen one thing happen.

I asked how do you determine the meaning and the response was that "I've heard similar phrase before".


So, just as in English it appears that there are many phrases which one can only know by understanding the back story. Please let me know if this interpretation is correct. I'm interested in learning additional Chinese metaphors if you'd like to share (either a new metaphor, different explanation of the phrase above, or source material where I can read more info about Chinese Metaphors).

Updated Remarks

Based on the answers below, I have revised my understanding of the metaphor to be:

"there's no sign of anything happening yet" ("八字沒見一撇", Section 9, baidu.com)

As mentioned I welcome any further answers to this question, especially ones that lead to discovery of more metaphors. I will use the information to further disambiguate metaphors, idioms, and proverbs (which are three types of common expressions that I am no tracking in my study of Chinese grammar). Thanks for the help in advance.

2 Answers 2


The general idea for this idiom is that there's no guarantee for (whatever matter you are referring to) to come to fruition yet, likely whatever it was hasn't even been started. No way. Another way of saying this in Chinese is "(事情)还没有眉目"

The character 八 (eight) is written with 2 strokes, the first one is 撇 (to the left), and the second one is 捺 (to the right). Think about it this way: for a character with two strokes, the first stroke hasn't be written.

Colloquially, you may also see the idiom written as 八字沒一撇

I found an article on BaiDu that goes into the origins of the idiom (http://baike.baidu.com/view/2005439.htm)

I have included my translations about the origins part (see BaiDu for original text) The original idiom actual refers to the possible engagement between a man and woman. When the couple gets introduced to each other, a fortune teller is invited to see if their birth time/day/month/year (八字) will be harmonious with each other. This is called 发八字. If they are deemed to be compatible/harmonious, the man and woman will officially become engaged. Of course, these terms are not used today.


This is the Chinese equivalent of a number of English proverbs: "Man proposes, God disposes." Or even, "don't count your chickens before they're hatched."

There are times when "a lot of activity" will not produce a good result.

  • Thanks for the answer I really appreciate the effort, although I would always prefer to see examples in Chinese if possible (since I know the English proverbs). Please feel free to share the source of any Chinese proverbs so that I can continue to learn this wonderful language! 👍
    – Tommie C.
    Jun 1, 2014 at 3:42

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