Big Dragons Never Die

    Keywords: Proverb

Actually it is a controversial statement to say that "Big dragons never die". Sometimes they die with a bang.

The proverb reflects the fact that a big group that stretches across the board (dragon) has a lot of possibilities to:

1) form two eyes,

2) get engaged in a capturing race that is easily won (or end in a seki at worst) because the group is so big,

3) make a ko for life and win it with so many local ko threats (or make an additional ko elsewhere and live in double ko), or

4) in a rare case, enclose an opponent's group and live with a two headed dragon.

As with all proverbs it is just a hint and does not replace actual reading.

It is believed also that a side that has only one group wins the game.

There is a practical application of this proverb. Don't let two weak groups connect, because while they are disconnected they are weak, but two connected weak groups are much stronger. As always, there are exceptions :)

In oriental languages

  • Chinese: 棋长一尺,无眼自活 (literally: "Stones extended by a foot will live on their own [even] without eyes.")
  • Japanese: 大石死せず (taiseki shisezu) "big group never dies".
  • Korean: 대마불사 (大馬不死 daemabulsa) "large horses do not die".[1]


[1] Since the pronunciation of the four characters sound similar to that of the Chinese language (which I do understand), I typed in my best guesses of the Hanja (Chinese characters used in the Korean language)--大馬不輸--into Google Translate and clicked on the "Read Phonetically" button. To my surprise, the pronunciation was actually "Daemabusu." However, changing the text to 大馬不死 (which would be "large horses do not die" if I interpret the characters in Chinese) does result in the "Daemabusa" rendering. To be safe, I also consulted an online Hanja dictionary, and the pronunciations I got for the corresponding Hangul equivalents of 輸 and 死 were also "su" and "sa," respectively.

So, part of me wonders if we have a case of mistranslation in the quoted text. Could anyone who understands Korean please verify the accuracy of the literal translation? (Again, the literal translation doesn't really matter here since the phrase is meant to be metaphorical. But it doesn't hurt to ensure that SL has correct information on linguistic notes.) --Mr Tenuki

zxb: Your dictionary might be incorrect. In mandarin, 输(simplified) or 輸 is pronounced "SHU", not "SU". 死 is pronounced "sssssssss" (I can't find the equivalent in English!), without an "A" sound. However I think Korean and Chinese is really too different.

MrTenuki: By "su" and "sa" above, I was referring to the Korean pronunciation of 輸 and 死 rather than the Mandarin pronunciation (which I already know). Again, I was under the suspicion that the phrase might be a cognate-- hence the idea of looking up logical guesses of the last character in Chinese but rendering the pronunciation in Korean.

The reading 불 for 不 appears to be standard in Korean when used as a prefix negating a following verb. I did some searching and found [ext] this Coursera lecture which quotes the proverb and translates it as "big horses do not die", so I feel confident in concluding [ext] the originally cited article by Joongi Kim is using a euphemistic translation.

Big Dragons Never Die last edited by on August 4, 2021 - 05:52
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