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Thursday, 25 July 2013


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Post rationalising this explanation, it makes perfect sense. Ancient cultures were never as visually dominated as ours, and popular imagery didn't truly exist until the advent of the printing press. In fact it can be interesting trying to imagine oneself in a time where there were no mirrors and no significant representations of the human face (beyond religious iconography). And here's something fascinating. An art historian has come up with the idea that the resurrection itself wasn't a physical reality, but the response the existence of the shroud of Turin (which was real). If you had never seen an image of a human face, then an accurate representation of it might feel completely 'real'.

Doing the math then, one word = one milli-picture.

Folklore....I love it when it gets debunked!

Greets, Ed.

Just about everything that can't be attributed to Oscar Wilde or Churchill gets dumped on the Ancient Chinese. The famous Chinese curse 'may you live in interesting times' is another phoney one.

A favorite debate topic, certainly. The phrase shows up in America in the 1920s onward. The Brisbane remark (the earliest source document) came from an instructional talk to the Syracuse Advertising Men's Club: "Use a picture. It's worth a thousand words,"
in March of 1911 all right...

Still, the dilettante sinologist in me would like to point out that in 61 BC, there was one general Zhao (赵充国) who, when discussing with Emperor Xuan how to crush a rebellion by the Qiang people, told the Emperor:

"Seeing once is better than hearing about the matter a hundred times. As judging military matters from afar is difficult, I'll go to the Qiang region and submit a battle plan from there for your approval"

Semantically speaking, close enough to the modern expression for me ;-)

Talk less. Shoot more.

C'mon, nobody bought into that Confucius thing. 'Made in China' cameras have been there for a while, but not for that long...

I used to have a T-shirt that said "A Picture is worth a thousand dollars." I got at a trade show back in the 1980s.

Given what it must have cost to have somebody sketch an illustration, transport it back to a major newspaper, and then have somebody manually prepare an etching based on the sketch, clearly they thought it was important to do what they could with illustrations. Which suggests to me that the interest in seeing things not near us pre-dates the printing press, it's just that we couldn't get very far in satisfying that interest until recently.

And there was me thinking it was the going rate for photojournalist compared to reporters...;-)

Millôr Fernandes a brazilian cartoonist, artist, author, and translator (from Rio, died last year at age of 88) has a classic phrase, about the pretense of that obvious supremacy of the image:

"One image worths a thousand words... say that without using a word."

Sometimes translated from Portuguese as:

“A picture is worth a thousand words, but try to say that in a picture”


a picture is worth a thousand word = 一張照片 勝過千言萬語.
that's a good picture is unable to disbribe through many many words.

百聞不如一見 'bai wen bu ru yi jian =Seeing is better than hearing a hundred times. that's self-seeing is more important than hearing or learning ex others.

Roger Overall wrote:
> The latter reference has an illustration with what appears to be Chinese
> writing. Could a TOP reader help with a translation? Is it a fabrication
> or is it the ancient saying referred to by Rev, Heng Sure?

Jeez. I'd have expected that by now, some competent Chinese speakers would have provided some additional enlightenment to this thread...
Anyway, as the silence is deafening, let me add my two cents again.

The illustration Roger refers to (畫意能達萬言) is, in fact, a literal translation of the English sentence "A picture is worth ten thousand words".

The fact that there's a slightly unnatural, literal structural match between the Chinese and the English sentences makes this dilettante sinologist suspect that this is a an originally English sentence that has been translated into Chinese.

Besides, a quick googling couldn't find any references establishing the use of 畫意能達萬言 or its rendition into more modern Chinese — e.g. "一画能达万言" — prior to the 20th century.

On the other hand, the ancient Chinese proverb Rev. Heng Sure and myself referred to is 百闻不如一见 which could be translated as "[Seeing once / one look] is better than hearing about the matter a hundred times"

A plausible propagation path is thus:

百闻不如一见 (ancient Chinese proberb)
One Look is Worth A Thousand Words (Barnard et al.)
A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words (Barnard et al.)
畫意能達萬言 (fairly modern, literal Chinese translation)

Note that, as this example indicates, Westerners also had recognized the quantitative and qualitative information gap existing between the visual and linguistic channels.

This expression also conveys the general idea, I suppose.

I never liked the the "thousand words" saying, for me is part of the stupidization enforced by the media. The spanish philosopher Fernando Savater inverted and said: "Every word is worth a thousand pictures, because It can evoke them all".

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