Saturday, 14 November 2015

10 Interesting Chinese Words And Expressions

Vinegar jars, invisible glasses, and flatulent dogs.

From time to time on the Charles Fudgemuffin blog I take a look at interesting words found in other languages from around the world, and this week I focus on Chinese.  Please note, I'm not a fluent Chinese speaker, so apologies if I haven't explained any of the above with perfect linguistic clarity, but here are a few Chinese words which I found amusing or interesting...

Dog fart!
Please note, a cuddly toy dog has been used for the purposes of
this photo in order to avoid causing embarrassment to any real dogs.

1) Dog Fart!

In English, if someone was expressing an opinion you disagreed with, you might reply, "Rubbish!" or "Nonsense!" or if you were old-fashioned and slightly posh you might say "Poppycock!"

If you spoke Chinese, however, you might reply 'gǒupì!' (狗屁) which more or less means the same thing as 'Nonsense!' but rather amusingly, it literally translates as 'Dog fart!'

If you want to have hours of amusement at work, then I recommend introducing the expression 'dog fart!' to your office, and I can testify from my own experience that it's guaranteed to produce hours of childish hilarity!

What's that you say?  'Dog fart'?  No, I promise you it's true.

2) Invisible Glasses

This is a cool Chinese expression which is really logical, and if I was to say I'm wearing 'invisible glasses' or 'yǐnxíng yǎnjìng' (隐形眼镜), then you might be able to work out what I meant even if you don't speak Chinese.  If you haven't guessed it already, then Chinese people don't wear contact lenses, they wear 'invisible glasses'.  Unless they've got perfect eyesight of course, in which case they would literally wear invisible glasses, i.e. no glasses.


3) Frog Swim

We have rather functional words to describe various swimming strokes in English, but in Chinese their swimming strokes are more poetically described.  My favourite is the 'breast stroke' which in Chinese is referred to as 'wāyǒng' (蛙泳) or 'frog swim' which is a very appropriate way to describe the breast stroke.

4) Chicken falls in the soup

In England if you had been caught outside during a very heavy rainstorm, your soaked through appearance might prompt others to describe you as a 'drowned rat'.  In Chinese, however, you would be described as a 'chicken who falls in the soup' or 'luòtāngjī' (落汤鸡).

5) Berp! / Hiccup!

In English, berping and hiccuping are totally different concepts, but in Chinese they don't seem to distinguish between the two, because they use the same word 'dǎgé' (打嗝 ) to refer to both 'berp' and 'hiccup'.

6) Eat Vinegar

One Chinese Mandarin word I really like is the word 'chīcù' (吃醋).  It means 'to be jealous' but it literally translates as 'to eat vinegar' which is an interesting and very poetic way to describe jealousy.  On the same theme, a jealous person would be described as a 'cù tánzi' (醋坛子) which literally transaltes as a 'vinegar jar'.

78,734,658,734,653) Exaggerate

Fifty cows.
If I was to say that the English language has billions of brilliant words I would be exaggerating, because according to the Language Monitor website, there are currently only 1,025,109.8 words in the English language.  I'm not quite sure how you can have 0.8 of a word so perhaps they're making an overly precise estimati.

Anyway, to get back to the subject, if I was to say that in Chinese there are billions of brilliant words I would be 'inflating a cow', because in Chinese the expression 'blowing up a cow' or 'chuī niú' (吹牛) means to exaggerate, particularly when used in a boastful manner.

8) Electric Brain

One thing I like about foreign languages in general is the way they often use very creative expressions to describe objects that English speakers describe in a very ordinary and functional way.  One example of this is the Chinese word for computer 'diànnǎo' (電腦) which literally translates as an 'electric brain' which is a pretty cool way to describe a computer. 

A spoilt thing.

9) Spoilt Thing

I've mentioned before on the Charles Fudgeuffin blog that my mam and dad have two pet pugs who are totally cute and also lucky to be such spoilt things.  If my mam and dad spoke Chinese, then their two pugs would literally be 'spoilt things' because the Chinese word for 'pet' is 'chǒngwù' (宠物) which literally means ... 'spoilt thing'!

10) Pat the horse's butt

If you wanted to get on in business or in your career, and you weren't averse to using dubious methods to achieve success, then you might use flattery to win favour with your boss, or with an official in a position of power.  In Chinese this could be described as 'pāi mǎpì' (拍马屁) which literally means to 'pat the horse's butt', but it basically means to use flattery to win favour with a boss or someone in authority.

The Chinese language features some very creative ways to refer to things that would be described quite mundanely in the English language, so I might have another post on interesting Chinese words at some point.  You can find other language posts at the links below:
Languages Around The World (Part 1 - Korean)
10 Cool Swedish Words And Expressions
Modern Swedish Words

Footnote: Most people are probably aware that there are actually various Chinese languages, e.g. Mandarin, Cantonese, simplified, traditional, so apologies for not clarifying which specific language each of the above terms is from, but as I say, I'm not a fluent Chinese speaker.

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About The Author

The 'How To Save The World' books
by Charles Fudgemuffin
Charles Fudgemuffin is the author of the alien comedy 'How To Save The World' books which are available for Kindle from Amazon.  The first book in the series is available from the following link:
How To Save The World: An Alien Comedy

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Please note, the 'How To Save The World' books contain material suitable for ages 18+ and are not recommended for prudes or squares.