The original expression, from the famous Chinese book 'Zhuangzi' continues: "君子之交淡如水,小人之交甘若醴 ..." and its author is expressing that true friendships are like water, but that some relationships, in spite of looking good like wine, are not true friendships.

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    Well, what does it mean? – Malvolio May 28 '15 at 2:55
  • it mean 'the really friendship is like water, clear and no suspicions‘ – Emity Pan May 28 '15 at 3:12
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    The Watson translation gives the following text: "The friendship of a gentleman, they say, is insipid as water; that of a petty man, sweet as rich wine. But the insipidity of the gentleman leads to affection, while the sweetness of the petty man leads to revulsion. Those with no particular reason for joining together will for no particular reason part." – John Lawler May 28 '15 at 3:46
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    I'm sure there are better ways of saying this! Are you looking for an exact translation, or an established English proverb or saying with a similar meaning? – Mari-Lou A May 28 '15 at 4:23
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    Please include the English meaning of the phrase (Prof. Lawler has kindly provided one in the comments, or you can find your own translation). Otherwise, this will have to be closed as an off-topic translation request. – Marthaª May 28 '15 at 15:39

What about this one? I'm not very sure.

A hedge between keeps friendship green

The link (in Chinese) I got this translation from is here.


You have taken it out of context and that's why you are having difficulty understanding it. The complete quote is: 君子之交淡淡若水,小人之交甘若醴; 君子淡以亲,小人甘以绝。

It contrasts two kinds of friendship and then contrasts the reaction they evoke. In the first, a gentlemen's friendship is as flavorless as water; there is no vigor in it. In contrast, the friendship of a common man is often warm and sincere.

Yet, ironically, we are drawn to those who treat us with little interest; we grow to admire them. Similarly, despite the sincerity of the friendship of the poor man, we grow to despise him.

This saying expresses the notion that many people are drawn to relationships where they are not valued while wanting for affection, yet throw away relationships where they are shown affection easily.

The meaning is much clearer if you consider the entire sentence.


To the extent that there is any truth to the notion that healthy and enduring friendships might sometimes require an occasional fudging or omission of the whole truth and that they might tend to last longer than friendships where the whole truth is never, ever hidden, the following might somehow have a small measure of relevance:

In wine there is truth, in water there is health

from the Latin “In vino veritas, in aqua sanitas.”

Regardless, it sure comes closer than the variation offered by Ben Franklin (or whoever really said it), but then again, maybe not:

In wine there is wisdom; in beer there is freedom/strength; in water there is bacteria

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    Presumably not Franklin, who died before the word "bacterium" was coined. – GEdgar May 28 '15 at 16:19


"real friendship is transparent, clear-like-water"


A somewhat similar phrase in English is

"no strings attached"

This particular catchphrase in English, is indeed often used in relation to friendship. So,

He was a great friend - no strings attached.

There were no strings attached to their friendship.

There are no strings attached to this love!

.. and so on. That's the best I can think of.

To repeat myself, THIS IS A "SOMEWHAT SIMILAR" phrase ... and I'm assuming the sense claimed above ("clear friendship") is correct - every time I've been in Shangahi I've been drunk so I cannot comment on Chinese sayings.

In a word, "no strings attached" means "unconditionally" or "without conditions or requirements".

Simply go to the OED: no strings attached. informal. used to show that an offer or opportunity carries no special conditions or restrictions. they wanted a lot of money with no strings attached.

Another somewhat similar phrase in English is "no ifs, ands or buts". You could say: "I'm your friend - no ifs, ands or buts!" but that would be novel. "A friend, no strings attached" would be a more common formulation. OK?

  • This is an interesting one. Would you care to elaborate a bit on the specific meaning of " no strings attached" here? Does it mean "natural, pure" in this context? – Vim May 28 '15 at 14:00
  • Just google for 1000s of words on the meaning, or use a dictionary. "Without conditions or restrictions, as in They give each of the children $10,000 a year with no strings attached. This expression dates from the mid-1900s, although string in the sense of "a limitation" has been used since the late 1800s." It essentially mens "unconditional", 'straightforward". It's not EXACTLY the same as "crystal clear" but the closest idiom in English. – Fattie May 28 '15 at 14:02

here's a "reference"


ALERT -- it's possible that reference is complete nonsense, like a lot of stuff on the internet.

in English we say

"good fences, make good neighbours!"

I think that's the point of your Chinese saying.

That English phrase means .. while it's great to be friends, you need to have clear boundaries and agreements on everything. Friends shouldn't just, say, endlessly share everything. While being "friendly", you should keep things "correct" and "in order".

A somewhat similar phrase in English is, "Trust - but Verify!" (it was popularised by US President Reagan; it comes from a Russian original phrase; you can easily read about it extensively online). One could say "Trust, but verify!" is a rather harsher version of "Good fences make good neighbours!"

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    You should probably wait to hear what the phrase actually means before you answer. This means nothing like what the OP is looking for. – Catija May 28 '15 at 3:16
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    No, we don't "use any ink" but getting a fast answer may make the asker less inclined to give more info because they think they already have an answer, particularly new people who aren't familiar with SE. – Catija May 28 '15 at 5:01
  • @JoeBlow It's true that a fast answer doesn't use ink, but a wrong answer causes confusion and misunderstandings, and a fast wrong answer causes confusion and misunderstandings faster. Efficiency is only as virtuous as the action to which it is applied. – user867 May 28 '15 at 7:07
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    God in Heaven. Concern on this site about causing confusion. Someone call a monk. – Fattie May 28 '15 at 13:53
  • hi Catija. SPEAK UP. on what basis do you say it's "nothing like" what the OP is looking for. Are you a native Chinese speaker? hi user867. Are you a native Chinese speaker? – Fattie May 28 '15 at 13:54

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