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I found an interesting quote in former Republican senator Alan Simpson's following remark in commenting budget cuts plans proposed by Obama administration. That is 'a sparrow's belch in the midst of a typhoon.' Is this a well-used saying? We have counterpart expressions to this in our country such as 'just a drop of piss in the ocean', 'wash a grain of sesame (or a burdock – I don’t know why it’s burdock) in the Pacific.' Do you have any other tart expressions to compare a small thing with a big thing or unimportant matter with important matter?

"Former Wyoming Republican senator Alan Simpson weighed in on the country's fiscal situation, saying that anyone calling for budget cuts that did not include Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security and Defense were 'issuing a sparrow's belch in the midst of a typhoon.'"

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This is just guessing, but using "sparrow" and "typhoon" makes the saying sound more Asian, and therefore more ancient and wise. –  Andrew Grimm Sep 14 '11 at 23:28
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2 Answers

up vote 3 down vote accepted

A sparrow's belch in the midst of a typhoon

is not a commonly-used idiom; I do not think it is standard, either, but its meaning can be easily deduced. English speakers routinely create their own metaphors in place of well-worn idioms. This phrase may well be Simpson's own coinage, as he used it almost exactly five years ago in an interview with Fox News Sunday:

Let me tell you, those who don’t like him have put a big red tail on his bum, and cloven hooves, and horns on his head. And let me tell you, if anybody thinks — if this had happened to anybody else in America, it would have been like a sparrow belch in a typhoon.

A more common standard equivalent is:

A drop in the bucket/ocean

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Ah. I remmber this phrase 'a drop in the bucket / ocean,' which sounds more elegant and graceful than our clicshe, 'piss in the ocean'! –  Yoichi Oishi Feb 7 '11 at 0:20
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Jimi.I also remember far more elegant version of ‘shed a drop of piss in the ocean.’ That is a phrase of French poet, Paul Ambroise Varery - ‘Oh vanity, vanity, vanity, I emtied a bottle of wine into the ocean as a tribute to vanity.’ I learnt this line by heart in my high school hood sixty years ago simply as it sounded 'philosophically significant.' I’m not sure now whether my memory of the line is correct or not, nor what the poet attempted to say. –  Yoichi Oishi Feb 7 '11 at 0:55
    
@Yoichi Oishi: Nice example. A drop of piss certainly has its own charm :) –  Jimi Oke Feb 8 '11 at 1:30
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Alan Simpson was probably giving a euphemism for the much more common

... like a squirrel fart in a thunderstorm ...

Google squirrel fart if you don't believe me. There's even video. :)

Simpson is a politician, and a Republican to boot, so he doesn't want to offend the electorate with "crude" language, especially anything that might be construed by some old lady in Dubuque to be scatological or otherwise offensive.

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Robusto-san. 'Like a squirrel fart in the thunder storm. It’s an amusing expression. We have a clicshe, ‘Kazega fukeba tobuyouna mono - Small stuff (person) that can be blown away with a puff of wind’ meaning an insignificant stuff (person). I’m amused that there is commonality in coining sayings about a thing in different languages. –  Yoichi Oishi Feb 7 '11 at 3:47
    
@Yoichi Oishi (Oishi-san): Check my profile. The second Japanese saying has an exact parallel in English! –  Robusto Feb 7 '11 at 3:59
    
Robusto-san. Thank you for always quick and kind explanation to me. By the way, I checked your profile and found the second line, 言い出しっぺ, which means ‘someone who had a first say.’ But as you know this does not associate with ‘sparrow belch.’ What did you mean by the second line? With regard to the first line, ‘正宗で大根を切る,’ we have another pertinent expression, 鶏を割くに牛刀を用いる, meaning ‘Cut chicken with a butcher knife.’ I’m curious to know the counterpart expressions in English in another opportunity. –  Yoichi Oishi Feb 7 '11 at 21:07
    
@Yoichi Oishi: kanjidict.stc.cx/… (in reference to "fart"). Am I wrong in thinking this isn't equivalent to the English expression "He who smelt it dealt it"? (Meaning he who "discovered" the fart is the one who produced it.) –  Robusto Feb 7 '11 at 21:14
    
@Yoichi Oishi: Oishi-san, are the meanings for the "cutting" expressions the same? 鶏を割くに牛刀を用いる I take to mean using way more force than is necessary to accomplish a task, while 正宗で大根を切る I take to mean using something of great value on a mundane task, with the added implication that the user of the Masamune doesn't understand the value of the blade. In some sense I think it's similar to our expression "Casting pearls before swine," but not exactly. –  Robusto Feb 7 '11 at 21:24
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