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Pie In The Sky — 无稽之谈

November 18, 2011

Today I’d like to talk about what many countries/schools/organizations like to do that are mere “Pie In The Sky”.  Then I’ll discuss the origin of the century-old idiom “Pie In The Sky” and the origin of its two Chinese equivalence, 无稽之谈 and 天方夜谭.

Here goes:

§ Culture Ministry in Indonesia proposed in UNESCO that Bahasa Indonesia should be an international Language (much like English is).  It is true that bahasa Indo is a modern language (more so than Malay) but being modern and easy to learn is not the criteria.  The main criteria are:

  •  enough businessman uses it
  • a lot of people in the world are using it

It’s not true that it’s an Economic language (although once upon a time, Arab merchants learned this language whilst staying in South East Asia waiting for the wind to change direction to go back home).  And while the Indonesian government is going to promote its use, they won’t have enough money to spread it to the whole world.  Incidentally, Malaysia did the same thing to promote Bahasa Melayu as an international language.

§ A Malaysia minister said  Malaysia could win the Nobel Prize for one of the Sciences by 2020.  He even predicted the person would be a student from Mara Junior Science College in Malacca.  When I heard that from a friend, I commented that it’s more likely a Malaysian wins a Nobel Peace Prize, after all Dr. Mahathir himself was nominated for that.  The truth is: the country did not even show promise of progressing academically in its universities to that of their neighbour, Singapore (who also wish they had a Nobel Laureate) and it banned the visit of Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi, from speaking in its own country.

§ Singapore will bag gold medals in future Olympics.  Err, I forgot when that was said and I could not quote who said it.  But yes, this island state wants an Olympics gold medal badly.  And they won’t even consider gold medals from Youth Olympics nor para-Olympics.  Winners will be given a million dollar by the local government (or is it local Olympics Council).  But even that could not land them a gold.  They buy players from Chinese, lured players from Indonesia but that still didn’t work.  Now they’re eyeing the London 2012 summer Olympics so hungrily, the SEA Game gold medals in Palembang could not fill their hunger.

§ The US high-schoolers will be number one is Math and Science.  This may sound ironically, the world’s most powerful country could not have the averaage high-schoolers in top ten places in TIMSS (Trends in International Mathematics & Science Study ) or PISA (Program for International Student Assessment ).  Clinton vowed to do something. HM Bush (the so-called education president) pumped a lot of money in to no avail and even Obama (whose sister is a teacher in Hawaii) could not (and did not) solve this age-old problem.

Joe Hill (a swedish-born American) is the guy who coined this phrase “Pie in the sky” in 1911.  It appeared in a song (hymn of sort)  that reads:

You will eat, bye and bye,
In that glorious land above the sky;
Work and pray, live on hay,
You’ll get pie in the sky when you die.

无(no)稽(bow)之谈(talk) — google translate as “nonsense” but literally it means the kind of talk that is ridiculous.

天方夜谭 — same meaning as 无稽之谈 but really came from the Arabian 1001 nights.天方 is Chinese idea of a far-away land near the edge of the sky.  夜谭 means “night lake”.  But 谭 is actually a euphemism (in the Tang dynasty) for 谈 because they sounded the same but 谈 has two “火”(fire) and so ye-tan really means “night talk”.  Apart for using it as the title for “1001 nights” in Chinese, when used in a sentence, it means “Pie In The Sky”.

arabian nights

The Book Arabian 1001 Nights in Chinese


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