Chinese Idiom Stories

To Draw a Snake and Add on Feet

During the Warring States Period, there lived in the kingdom of Ch'u a temple caretaker who gave to the people who worked for him a pitcher of wine. But there were a lot of workers and not much wine, and if they were to split it evenly among themselves, nobody would get very much. Finally, one worker suggested that they each draw a snake in the dirt, and whoever finished first would get the wine. So they all began to draw, and the worker who finished first picked up the wine, preparing to drink. But noticing that others still hadn't finished, he continued to draw, boasting; "I can even give my snake feet!" Before he could finish, however, a second person finished his snake, and immediately grabbed the wine away from the first person, saying, "Snakes don't have feet; how can you add feet to yours?" And the worker who had begun drawing the feet looked sadly on as his friend finished the wine.

This idiom "to draw a snake and add on feet" has now come to mean that taking extra measures after one has already satisfactorily completed a task, or adding extra description after one has already explained oneself clearly, is harmful rather than beneficial.



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