Common Abbreviations in Chinese

Chinese Brush Painting – Chicks in Springtime

As if there weren’t already so many words to learn in Chinese, we must also be able to deal with abbreviations that are thrown at us from time to time, especially by news reporters, who must deliver vast amount of information within a very short time.

Many of the Chinese abbreviations, or 简称 (jiǎnchēng), are sort of like acronyms. When a word is made up of two or more other multi-character words, often a new word is formed by combining the initial character of each of the constituent words. For example,

今早 (jīnzǎo) stands for 今天早晨 (jīntiān zǎochén this morning); 明早 (míngzǎo) stands for 明天早晨 (míngtiān zǎochén tomorrow morning).

Hey, aren’t you glad that spring has sprung? 今春 (jīnchūn) stands for 今年春天 (jīnnián chūntiān this spring); 明春 (míng chūn) stands for 明年春天 (míngnián chūntiān next spring).

流感 (liúgǎn) refers to 流行感冒 (liúxíng gǎnmào, influenza); 股市 (gǔshì) refers to 股票市场 (gǔpiào shìchǎng, stock market).

台湾大学 (Táiwān Dàxué National Taiwan University) is abbreviated as 台大 (Táidà).

中学 (zhōngxué) is middle school. 女子中学 (nǚzǐ zhōngxué) is abbreviated as 女中 (nǚ zhōng).
高中 (gāozhōng) is high school. A girls high school is called 女高 (nǚ gāo).

Obsiously, any word that starts wtih 国 has something to do with a country or nation.
国防 (guófáng) is short for 国家防卫 (guójiā fángwèi, national defense).
国小 (guó xiǎo) is short for 国民小学 (guómín xiǎoxué, national elementary school).
内宣 (nèi xuān) is short for 内部宣传 (nèibù xuānchuán, internal propaganda).
外宣 (wài xuān) is short for 外部宣传 (wàibù xuānchuán, external propaganda, or publicity).

The Chinese transliteration of most of the foreign country names are a mouthful. Luckily we mostly refer to these countries by their abbreviated names. For example:

United States of America 美利坚合众国 (Měilìjiān hézhòngguó) is shortened to 美国 (Měiguó).
China 中华人民共和国 (Zhōnghuá Rénmín Gònghéguó) is 中国 (Zhōngguó).
Great Britain 大不列颠 (Dàbùlièdiān) is 英国 (Yīngguó).
France 法兰西 (Fǎlánxī) is 法国 (Fǎguó).

When talking about two or more countries, each will usually be represented by just one character, as shown below.

台美半导体会议 (Tái Měi bàndǎotǐ huìyì, Taiwan American Semiconductor Conference)
中美贸易 (Zhōng Měi màoyì, Sino-U.S. Trade)

For Hong Kong 香港 (xiānggǎng), the second character is chosen for the abbreviation, as in 台港关系 (Tái gǎng guānxì, Taiwan-Hong Kong relations).

欧盟 (ōuméng) stands for 欧洲联盟 (ōuzhōu liánméng, European Union).

公共 (gōnggòng) means shared by the public, and 公用 (gōngyòng) means for public use. Therefore, a bus is called 公共汽车 (gōnggòngqìchē), or 公车 (gōngchē) for short. Similarly, 公园 (gōngyuán) is short for 公共花园 (gōnggòng huāyuán, a public garden or a park), and 公厕 (gōngcè) is short for 公共厕所 (gōnggòng cèsuǒ, public restroom).

公公 (gōnggōng) is the father-in-law and 婆婆 (pópo) is the mother-in-law, whereas 公婆 (gōngpó) refers to both of them. Similarly, 父母 (fùmǔ) means parents, i.e. 父亲 (fùqīn, father) and 母亲 (mǔqīn, mother).

家用电器 (jiāyòngdiànqì, household appliance) is abbreviated as 家电 (jiādiàn).
驾驶执照 (jiàshǐ zhízhào, driver’s license) is abbreviated as 驾照 (jiàzhào).
空气调节 (kōngqì tiáojié, air conditioning) is abbreviated as 空调 (kòngtiáo).
空中运输 (kōngzhōng yùnshū, air transportation) is abbreviated as 空运 (kōngyùn).
世运会 (Shìyùnhuì) is short for 世界运动会 (Shìjiè yùndònghuì World Games).

Often some other (more significant) characters, rather than the initial characters, in the constituent words are selected to form the abbreviation, as shown in the following examples.

汽车 (qìchē) are cars. Vehicle license plates are called 汽车牌照 (qìchē páizhào), or 车牌 (chēpái).
厨具 (chújù) stands for 厨房用具 (chúfáng yòngjù, kitchen utensils).
糕饼 (gāobǐng) covers the sweet treats, such as 蛋糕 (dàngāo, cakes) and 饼干 (bǐnggān, cookies).

学校 (xuéxiào) are schools. Here, the second character is the one that designates the educational institution and is used for the following abbreviations:
校园 (xiàoyuán) is the school compound.
校花 (xiàohuā) is the generally acknowledged prettiest girl of a school.
校车 (xiàochē) is a school bus.
校长 (xiàozhǎng) is the principal.

专科学校 (zhuānkē xuéxiào) is a specialized school, such as a technical college. It is abbreviated as 专校 (zhuān xiào).

Finally, the four-character Chinese idioms are the ultimate in abbreviations. As we have seen in my previous blog post about 塞翁失馬 (sāiwēngshīmǎ), there can be a long story behind some of those pithy expressions.

Chinese idiom for “Misfortune could be a blessing in disguise.”

Road Block sign

Road Blocked

On life’s journey, it is inevitable that we sometimes encounter setbacks. However, often they are not as bad as they appear to be.

Suppose you baked a chiffon cake, but something went wrong. Instead of a tender and uniformly pale perfection with just the right amount of moistness, the cake features a visible layer of goo settled somewhere in the middle. Before you declare the fruit of labor a failure, let me congratulate you. You have just produced what’s called a “magic cake”, or 魔术蛋糕 (móshù dàngāo).

And suppose, while mixing yeast, flour and water to make bread dough, you were absent-minded and accidentally added way too much water. You look at the poolish (wet dough sponge) and wonder if you should dump the whole thing and start over. Don’t. This is actually the perfect mixture for making the so-called “peasant bread”, or 农家面包 (nóngjiā miànbāo). You might need to add a bit more salt to adjust the taste, and then the dough is ready for proofing and baking. No need to knead, and I’m not kidding. The end product is a coarse bread that lives up to its name, but some people claim that it is the best bread they have ever consumed.

After the ingenious inventor and engineer Nikola Tesla 尼古拉 特斯拉 (Nígǔlā Tèsīlā) had a falling-out with Thomas Edison 托马斯 爱迪生 (Tuōmǎsī Aàidíshēng) and resigned from the latter’s company as an electrical engineer, he had to support himself by working as a ditch digger. Luckily, fortune turned in his favor. Had he stayed with Edison, his concept of using alternating current to deliver power would never have been implemented.

So it is that you find yourself in a bad situation, you might try to take it easy, as sometimes the loss might turn out to be a gain. There is a saying in Chinese that conveys this sentiment:

Sāiwēngshīmǎ, yānzhīfēifú.
The old man lost a horse; how would you know if this would not turn out to be a blessing?

In the story on which this idiom is based, the horse of an old gentleman ran away one day. While his neighbors felt sorry for him, the old man did not take this incident to heart. Indeed, a few months later, the horse returned, accompanied by a fine steed. The old man ended up gaining an additional horse.

老人失掉了马, 但是他不在意.
Lǎorén shīdiàole mǎ, dànshì tā bù zàiyì.
The old man lost his horse, but he did not care.

There are a few other ways to say that you don’t care.

不在乎 (bùzàihū) means not minding something; not giving a fig about something.

Tā shīdiàole gōngzuò, dànshì tā hǎoxiàng háo bùzàihū.
He lost his job, but he does not seem to care.

不介意 (bù jièyì) means not minding or not taking offence.

如果你不介意, 我明天就不来了.
Rúguǒ nǐ bù jièyì wǒ míngtiān jiù bù láile.
If you don’t mind, I won’t come tomorrow.

不放在心上 (bù fàng zàixīn shàng) means not taking something to heart.

Xīwàng nǐ bùyào bǎ zhè jiàn shì fàng zàixīn shàng.
Hope you don’t take this matter to heart.

处之泰然 (chǔzhītàirán) is to handle a situation with equanimity.

Tā fánshì chǔzhītàirán.
He is at ease with everything.

How would you say “It doesn’t matter.” in Chinese? Yes, 没关系 (méiguānxi), or 不要紧 (bùyàojǐn), or 无所谓 (wúsuǒwèi).

没关系; 我坐哪里都无所谓.
Méiguānxì, wǒ zuò nǎlǐ dōu wúsuǒwèi.
It’s all right; it doesn’t matter where I sit.

When faced with an issue about which one can do little, a person might simply let it be.

那么, 就顺其自然吧!
Nàme, jiù shùn qí zìrán ba!
Then, let it be.

顺其自然 (shùnqízìrán) is to follow nature’s course.

A confident person might be more optimistic and utter one of the following three idioms.

Heaven never seals off all the exits – there is always a way out..

Chuán dào qiáotóu zìran zhí.
The boat will automatically straighten itself out when it gets to the bridge.
(We’ll cross the bridge when we get there.)

<font size=”5″>穷则变,变则通.
Qióng zé biàn, biàn zé tōng.
When at an impasse, one will try to change things, and then the path will open.

(qióngtúmòlù) is a literary expression for a dead end or an impasse.

No one knows how a person’s fate might change in the next moment. That’s expressed in the Chinese saying:

A storm may arise out of the blue;

Rén yǒu dànxì huò fú.
people’s fate may change in a day.

旦夕 (dànxī) is the formal Chinese way of saying this morning or evening, i.e. in a short while.

Let’s hope that whatever problem you are facing now will turn out to be a blessing in disguise.

她被开除之后, 找到一个理想的工作, 可以说是因祸得福.
Tā bèi kāichú zhīhòu, zhǎodào yīgè gèng lǐxiǎng de gōngzuò, kěyǐ shuō shì yīnhuòdéfú.
After she was fired, she found an ideal job, which can be said to be a blessing in disguise.

Fùnǚ jié kuàilè!
Happy International Women’s Day!

Sing Indian Love Call in Chinese

The theme song “Indian Love Call” of the movie “Rose Marie” is based on a presumed Aboriginal Canadian legend in which men would call down from the mountains and wait for the girls they wished to marry to echo back. You can click here to read about this song.

If you are not familiar with the movie, you can click here to watch the emotionally charged ending:

I happened to come across this video on youtube and was amazed by the way the yodel master Slim Whitman completely changed the character of the song.

Following are the lyrics of the version sung by Slim Whitman

When I’m calling you,
Will you answer, too?
That means I offer my love to you,
To be your own.
If you refuse me I will be blue, waiting all alone.
But if when you hear my love call ringing clear,
And I hear your answering echo so dear,
Then I will know our love will come true.
You’ll belong to me; I’ll belong to you.

I had fun looking for fitting Chinese words that rhyme with “you” so that the translated lyrics would mimic the original when sung. Here’s what I’ve got, and I hope you will give it a try and belt out these verses either to the breathtakingly (pun intended) beautiful original tune or to the lighthearted Slim Whitman version. In any case, your version will be unique, as it will be in Chinese.

Wǒ xiàng nǐ gāo hū.
I’m calling out to you.

Nǐ kě yuàn huífù?
Are you willing to reply?

我情意脉脉, 把心托付,
Wǒ qíngyì mò mò, bǎ xīn tuōfù,
Affectionately I entrust my heart,

pàn néng wéi ǒu.
hoping to become your companion.

听不到回音, 我会痛苦,
Tīng bù dào huíyīn, wǒ huì tòngkǔ,
Should I not hear a response, I will suffer (feel painful),

bēishāng hé gūdú.
and feel sad and lonely.

Dàn yuàn wǒ di gēshēng qīngxī yòu xiǎngliàng,
Hopfully my song is ringing loud and clear,

yuǎn yuǎn chuán lái qīn’ài di nǐ di huíxiǎng.
and from afar comes, my dear, your echo.

Rèqiè qídài
Fervently I’ll await

huānlè yǔ xìngfú.
joyfulness and happiness.

Nǐ shì wǒ de ài,
You are my love,

Wǒ fēi nǐ mò shǔ.
I belong to you and no one else.

If you would like to know how to sing “Down in the Valley” in Chinese, please click on this link.

Qíngrénjié kuàilè!
Happy Valentines Day!

Attention: The eBook “My Fatma” is now available for free download at This promotion ends on 2/14/2021 11:59 PM PST. Please help spread the word, and also remember to post a positive review at after reading the novel. Thanks much!

Year of the Ox and Chinese words and idioms associated with the ox

Miss Cow

Yes, Miss Cow!

In Taiwan, many names of places and people are Romanized using the Wade–Giles system, which spells the G sound as K. Therefore, (Gāo), the last name of one of my classmates at an English-speaking girls high school is spelled as Kao. As our science teacher chose to address us by our last names, each time he called upon my friend to answer a question, all we heard was: “Miss Cow, Miss Cow!”

The Chinese generally respect oxen and cows as loyal and hard working beast of burdern. Many from the older generations refuse to eat beef for this reason. On the other hand, just like in western culture, oxen and cows are not considered intelligent animals. The Chinse word for “dumb ox” is 笨牛 (bèn niú). In the movie “The Butterfly Lovers”, when it finally dawned on the main male character that the “pal” he adored had been dropping hint after hint that she was actually a young lady disguised as a young man, he slapped his own forehead and exclaimed,

我是個大笨牛, 大笨牛!
Wǒ shì ge dà bèn niú, ge dà bèn niú!
I’m such a big fool, such a big fool!

Soon it will be 牛年 (niúnián), or Year of the Ox. Per the Chinese zodiac, people born in the Year of the Ox tend to be strong, diligent, reliable, faithful and patient. However, they can also be opinionated and stubborn, as indicated by the expression 牛脾气 (niúpíqi) representing bullheadedness, stubborn temperament or obstinacy.

(niú) is a word radical that appears in many Chinese words, such as (wù thing, matter, substance) or (mù to tend to a herd.) Can you find a few other words that take on this radical?

公牛 (gōngniú) is a bull or an ox. 母牛 (mǔniú) is a cow. 乳牛 (rǔniú) is a dairy cow. 水牛 (shuǐniú) is a water buffalo.

黄牛 (huángniú) is a yellowish brown ox usually employed in pulling carts. This word has a couple special connotations. As a noun, it could refer to a ticket scalper. In Taiwan, it can be used as a verb that means to fail to keep one’s word or to fail to show up.

好的, 你明天来接我; 不可以黄牛喔!
Hǎode, nǐ míngtiān lái jiē wǒ; bù kěyǐ huángniú ō!
All right, come tomorrow to pick me up; don’t weasel out!

犀牛 (xīniú) is a rhinoceros, and a tractor is referred to as 铁牛 (tiěniú iron ox).

蜗牛 (wōniú) is a snail. Do you think the head of a snail resemble that of an ox?

牛肉 (niúròu) is a general term for beef. 牛排 (niúpái) is a beefsteak, while 牛尾汤 (niúwěitāng) is an oxtail soup.

牛奶 (niúnǎi) is milk, and 酸牛奶 (suānniúnǎi) is yogurt or sour milk. Those of you with a sweet tooth should be interested to know that toffees are called 牛奶糖 (niúnǎitáng). (rǔ) is a more formal word for milk; it also refers to breasts. So, 牛乳 (niúrǔ) is cow milk, while 乳房 (rǔfáng) are breasts, and 乳癌 (rǔ ái) is breast cancer.

Butter is called 奶油 (nǎiyóu) in Taiwan, 牛油 (niúyóu) in Hong Kong, and 黃油 (huángyóu) in China. So, in Taiwan, cream is 鲜奶油 (xiǎn nǎiyóu), while elsewhere it is simply referred to as 奶油 (nǎiyóu). When working with a recipe in Chinese that includes butter or cream, make sure you know what is actually called for.

牛顿 (niúdùn) is the transliteration of the name of the physicist Sir Isaac Newton.

牛郎 (niúláng) the cowherd in the well-known legend “the Cowherd and the Weaver Girl”.

牛仔 (niúzǎi) is a cowboy, and jeans are called 牛仔裤 (niúzǎikù).

牛痘 (niúdòu) refers to cowpox or small pox.

吹牛 (chuīniú) means to boast, brag, or talk big.

Wǒ gēgē zuì ài chuīniú.
My elder brother loves to brag.

牛饮 (niúyǐn) means to swig or to drink like a fish.

牛角尖 (niújiǎojiàn) is the tip of a ox horn. 钻牛角尖 (zuānniújiǎojiān) means to continue headstrong into a blind alley, or to split hairs to study an insignificant or insoluble problem.

Wǒ jiějie ài zuānniújiǎojiān.
My elder sister loves to split hairs on unimportant details.

牛马 (niúmǎ) are oxen and horses, i.e. beasts of burden. 做牛做马 (zuò niú zuò mǎ) means to toil like a slave.

Fùmǔ gānxīn wèi zǐnǚ zuò niú zuò mǎ.
Parents are willing to toil for the sake of their children.

风马牛不相及 (fēngmǎniúbùxiāngjí) means having absolutely nothing to do with each other, such as two totally unrelated subject matters.

牛头不对马嘴 (niútóubùduìmǎzuǐ) translates to “The cow’s head does not match the horses’ mouth.” This expression is used to comment on an irrelevant answer received for a question asked.

杀鸡用牛刀 (shājīyòngniúdāo) means using an ox-cleaver to kill a chicken, i.e. breaking a butterfly on the wheel.

对牛弹琴 (duìniútánqín) literally means to play the lute to a cow. This idiom describes the situation in which one has choosen the wrong audience.

Tóng tā tánlùn yìshù jiù xiàng duìniútánqín.
Discussing fine art with him is like casting pearls before a swine.

Given a choice, would you rather be the head of a small business or a peon in a large corporation?

宁为鸡首, 不为牛后.
Níng wèi jī shǒu, bù wéi niú hòu.
I would rather be the head of the chicken than the tail of a cow.
(I would rather be the leader of a small organization than a follower in a big organization.)

As you may already know, most Chinese refer to the Chinese Lunar New Year as 春节 (chūnjié), which translates to Spring Festival. However, it has nothing to do with the spring break observed at universities and schools. In Chinese, the spring vacation is called 春假 (chūnjià).

Chūnjié kuàilè!
Happy Chinese Lunar New Year!

Learn Chinese words about feeling bad

Sad Moon

Moon Taking Pity on the World

Another year is slipping away, this one having been particularly challenging for many of us. Life does not promise us sunshine everyday; we must sometimes deal with hail, thunderstorms, floods, fires, diseases and pandemics. Therefore, this seems a good time for us to familiarize ourselves with a few Chinese words that pertain to pain, sadness, disappointment and other negative feelings.

不舒服 (bú shūfú) could mean not feeling well physically or feeling uncomfortable emotionally.

我今天不舒服, 不去上班了.
Wǒ jīntiān bú shūfú, bù qù shàngbānle.
I’m not feeling well today, so I won’t go to work.

他说约翰的坏话, 我听了心里很不舒服.
Tā shuō yuēhàn de huàihuà, wǒ tīngle xīnlǐ hěn bú shūfú.
He spoke ill of John,and I felt uncomfortable about it.

To feel is 感觉 (gǎnjué) or 觉得 (juéde).

他不能与朋友相聚, 感觉孤单以及郁闷.
Tā bùnéng yǔ péngyǒu xiāngjù, gǎnjué gūdān yǐjí yùmèn.
Not being able to get together wtih friends, he feels lonely and depressed.

期末考快要到了, 他觉得很紧张.
Qímò kǎo kuàiyào dàole, tā juédé hěn jǐnzhāng.
The final exam is near; he feels very nervous.

Tā jídù wǒ de chéngjī bǐ tā hǎo.
She is jealous that I have better grades than she.

Wǒ hòuhuǐ méiyǒu jiēshòu tā de jiànyì.
I regret not having followed his suggestion.

今年的销售量低, 颇令人失望
Jīnnián de xiāoshòu liàng dī, pǒ lìng rén shīwàng.
This year’s sales are low, quite disappointing.

他失业了, 前途茫然.
Tā shīyèle, qiántú mángrán.
He lost his job, and his future is uncertain.

她不敢去看电影, 怕得到病毒感染.
Tā bù gǎn qù kàn diànyǐng, pà dédào bìngdú gǎnrǎn.
She is afraid to go to the movies for fear of getting the virus.

Tā tǎoyàn chāduì de rén.
She despises people who jump the queue.

天黑了, 他还没回来. 我有些担心.
Tiān hēile, tā hái méi huílái. Wǒ yǒuxiē dānxīn.
It’s getting late, but he has not yet come back. I’m somewhat worried.

如果他出了事, 我们会很伤心.
Rúguǒ tā chū liǎo shì, wǒmen huì hěn shāngxīn.
If something happens to him, we will be very sad.

When you are sad or worried, try singing a song, such as “Worried Man Blues” presented at the end of Chapter 25 in “Learn Chinese through Songs and Rhymes“. It just might make you feel better.

Sometimes things are not as bad as we think. As a Chinese saying goes:

天下本无事, 庸人自扰之.
Tiānxià běn wú shì, yōngrénzìrǎo zhī.
Nothing is the matter with the world, except in one’s own imagination.

天下 (tiānxià) means land under heaven, or the world.
(běn), as used here, is the abbreviation of 本来 (běnlái), which means originally.
庸人 (yōngrén) refers to an average person.

And suppose the world is actually riddled with problems, like the pandemic and unrest we are experiencing, we could hope that the pendulum will soon swing the other way. This is what the Chinese refer to as 否极泰来 (pǐjítàilái), namely when misfortune reaches its limit, things will start to look up.

圣诞快乐, 新年如意!
Shèngdàn kuàilè, xīnnián rúyì!
Merry Christmas, Happy New Year!


Previous Older Entries

%d bloggers like this: