How does 海千山千 work?

Jisho gives me “sly old dog; old fox​,” while the literal translation would be “ocean thousand, mountain thousand.” Could it mean “thousand oceans, thousand mountains” as to imply you’ve been all over the world? (Speaking of, how come the number doesn’t come first?) Or is it a compounds of words for fox and/or dog and/or sly and/or old? Or is it simply a “unique” word that means “sly old dog.” This isn’t important to anything, really, I’m just curious.

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This is a yojijukugo (4 character idiomatic compound). Most come from ancient Chinese, which is why their structure and meanings can be a bit perplexing. This one comes from the idea (or possibly a story, I can’t remember) that a snake that lived for 1000 years in the mountains and 1000 years in the sea would become a dragon. That’s the rough origin story.

It’s used to talk about someone who is old but can use their experience to outmatch you. Sly old fox is just an English idiom with roughly the same meaning and usage.

I made a list of one yojijukugo for each level of WK, for those who want to learn more. This one was in the list.

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This snake story was interesting, thanks for sharing it :sunglasses:

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