Grandma Low’s Picks of 4-Words of Wisdom – An Introduction

By Julia Hsu Low, Watertown, Massachusetts

One summer day in July 2011, while waiting at a traffic light on Memorial Drive along the Charles River towards Boston Mass., I noticed the car in front of me with a New Hampshire license plate bearing the state motto: Live Free or Die.

Family, friends and contributors to the book gathered in front of the gate in Boston Chinatown.

Just four little words, I thought, carry such a profound and powerful message. My mind immediately was flooded with all the frequently used 4-word Chinese idioms and expressions I learned as a child growing up in Shanghai, China. Over the next few days, I began to collect idioms and expressions from family members and friends. Thus began my project.

Like idioms of other languages, they often contain hidden messages mostly related to life and living. Among the three, four, five, six and 7-word Chinese idioms, the most popular are the 4-word ones. They are time and space saving and economical as they offer the most concise use of words. Chinese idioms can be traced back to ancient dynasties, often quoted in classical literature, poetry and historical legends. It is estimated there are more than 30,000 Chinese idioms.

A few selected idioms in this book reflect the period of feudalistic society in China when a gender gap existed, and women played a less important role ( see 25.1, 25.6, 25.8 and 29.6). In an effort to adapt to modern times, the expressions have been carefully worded to portray a more contemporary view.

Expressions, however, differ from region to region and they change with time as new trends are introduced. In recent years, we often find 4-word descriptions and expressions on restaurant menus, eye-catching advertising titles and newspaper headlines. Speakers and writes often borrow specific lines to connect with the audience and readers.The purpose of this book is to bring fun and humor to readers learning the Chinese language as well as Chinese-speaking readers learning matching idioms and expressions in English. it is not designed to be a textbook.

Sir Francis Bacon once said, “Knowledge is power.” I hope readers will find this book educational, entertaining, informative and interesting, and I wish you all fulfill your reading pleasure.

(From pages II and III of Grandma Low’s 4-Words of Wisdom, ISBN 978-0-9855338-0-9)