Various ways to laugh in Chinese

SmilesThe Chinese word for (xiào) can mean to laugh, to smile or to ridicule.

Tā kāixīn de xiào le.
He laughed heartily.

To be specific, use 微笑 (wēixiào) for smiling, such as in 會心的微笑 (huìxīn de wēixiào), which means a

Tā xiàng wǒ wēixiào.
She smiles at me.

If you follow (xiào) with a noun, then you are ridiculing that person, object or event.

Dàjiā xiào tā tān chī.
Everyone laughs at him for being piggish.

How one expresses a laugh can communicate a gamut of different feelings. Following are a number of Chinese words that represent various ways of laughing. Notice how they all explicitly contain the word (xiào).

发笑 (fāxiào) is to issue a laugh.

In the Chinese version of the song, “The More We Get Together”, featured in Chapter 2 of “Learn Chinese through Songs and Rhymes“, you can see two expressions for laughing heartily , 笑哈哈 (xiàohāhā ) and 笑嘻嘻 (xiàoxīxī). Instead of doing “haha” or “hehe” some people giggle or chortle:

Tāmengēgēxiào bùtíng.
They giggled nonstop.

Children often laugh in a silly way. (hān) means innocent or naive. 憨笑 (hānxiào) is to smile or laugh in a childish way. (shǎ) means foolish. 傻笑 (shǎxiào) is to laugh foolishly or to issue an awkard laugh when don’t know what else to do. (chī ) means silly or insane; and 痴笑 (chī xiào) is to giggle foolishly.

大笑 (dà xiào) is to laugh out loud. 狂笑 (kuángxiào) or 哄笑 (hōngxiào) means to guffaw. 哄然大笑 (hōngrán dà xiào) is an expressioon commonly used for describing the boisterous, uproarious laughing of a crowd.

苦笑 (kǔxiào) is to make a forced smile.

他没办法说服她, 只好苦笑了一下.
Tā méi bànfǎ shuōfú tā, zhǐhǎo kǔxiào le yīxià.
As he was unable to convince her, he forced a smile.

惨笑 (cǎnxiào) means to smile in a sad and miserable way, such as when one realizes that everything has been lost.

谄笑 (chǎnxiào) is to smile in an ingratiating way. Have you ever had to do so? 赔笑 (péixiào) is to smile obsequiously or apologetically. A few years ago I saw a Chinese restaurant owner bow and smile apologetically when a customer complained about the food..

冷笑 (lěngxiào) is to laugh grimly or to grin with dissatisfaction, helplessness, or bitterness. It sounds like “ (hng humph)!”.

干笑 (gānxiào) is to cackle, as a witch might do.

奸笑 (jiānxiào) is to smile or laugh like a villain in a sinister way. A villain might also 獰笑 (níngxiào), or grin hideously.

There are also many ways to laugh at other people:

暗笑 (ànxiào) and 窃笑 (qièxiào) both mean to laugh in one’s sleeve or to snicker.

调笑 (tiáoxiào) is to poke fun at someone.

讥笑 (jīxiào) and 嘲笑 (cháoxiào) are synonyms that mean to ridicule, jeer, sneer at, or laugh sarcastically. 耻笑 (chǐxiào) is to ridicule, sneer at, or mock someone to shame him or her.

Bùyào cháoxiào biérén de ruòdiǎn
Don’t laugh at other people’s foibles.

By pairing (xiào) with an appropriate adverb or adverbial phrase, as shown in the very first sample sentence, you could come up with many more expressions that describe different ways to laugh.

I think laughter is the best gift you can give to anyone. On Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, say or do somthing to put a happy smile on your parent’s face.

Mǔqīnjié kuàilè!
Have a Happy Mother’s Day!


Lost in Chinese Translation


Cucumber Seedlings
Cucumber Seedlings

It’s perfect weather out there for the snow peas that I have sown – sunshine interspersed with light rain. Inside, I have started a few vegetable seedlings to be transplanted to the garden when the soil gets warmer. Discovering that a seedling has pushed its way out of the soil overnight always brings me great joy and elicits a “Wow!” from me.. Shown in the picture here are two 黃瓜 (huángguā) seedlings. How would you say 黃瓜 (huángguā) in English? Literally, it translates to “yellow squash”. However, yellow squashes are not what I expect to harvest from these plants when they mature. Rather, 黃瓜 (huángguā) in Chinese refers to what you call cucumbers in English.

Recently I finished writing a mig-grade novel (for ages 11 and up) titled “The Little Monk”. Not to leave out the Chinese-speaking readers, I have translated the story into Chinese as well, with the title “小和尚 “. I hope to get these two books published by the end of this year. Anyhow, what I want to talk about today is language translation between English and Chinese. At first, hoping to save time with the translation, I ran the text through an English-Chinese online translator. The result was totally unreadable and not even worth editing, but it did give me many a good laugh. I thought I’d share a few hilarious examples with you.

May Buddah bless you.
Incorrect: 五月菩薩保祐你. (Wǔyuè púsà bǎoyòu nǐ.)
Correct: 願菩薩保祐你. (Yuàn púsà bǎoyòu nǐ.)

In the above example, the auxiliary verb “may” was interpreted as the fifth month of the year.

He pressed his palms together.
Incorrect: 他按棕櫚葉一起. (Tā àn zōnglǘ yè yīqǐ.)
Correct: 他合起雙掌. (Tā hé qǐ shuāng zhǎng.)

In the above example, the word “palms” was interpreted as the palm leaves instead of the palms of the hands.

He lifted his wooden staff.
Incorrect: 他提起他的木職員. (Tā tíqǐ tā de mù zhíyuán.)
Correct: 他舉起他的木棒. (Tā jǔqǐ tā de mù bàng.)

In the above example, “staff” was interpreted as the employees instead of a long stick.

He raised the club.
Incorrect: 他提升了俱樂部. (Tā tíshēng le jùlèbù.)
Correct: 他舉起棒子. (Tā jǔqǐ bàng zi.)

Here, “club” was interpreted as an organization instead of a cudgel.

forceful strike
Incorrect: 強而有力的罷工 (qiǎng ér yǒulì de bàgōng)
Correct: 強而有力的擊打 (qiǎng ér yǒulì de jī dǎ)

See? When an English word has more than one meaning, it usually messes up the translation. Same with the following example.

The weather was fair.
Incorrect: 天氣很公平. (Tiānqì hěn gōngpīng.)
Correct: 天氣很好. (Tiānqì hěn hǎo.)

River bank
Incorrect: 河的銀行 (hé de yínháng)
Correct: 河岸 (hé’àn)

Question: Why are rivers rich? The answer: Each river has two banks.

a pitcher of spring water
Incorrect: 泉水的一個投手 (quánshuǐ de yīgè tōushǒu)
Correct: 一壺泉水 (yī hú quánshuǐ)

The above example makes me think that the translator must be a baseball fan. In the following two examples, the translator seems to be business-minded.

The board that trapped the man
Incorrect: 設陷井人的委員會 (shè xiàn jǐng rén de wěiyuánhuì)
Correct: 困住那個人的木板 (kùn zhù nàge rén de mùbǎn)

out of commission
Incorrect: 在委員會之外 (zài wěiyuánhuì zhīwài)
Correct: 壞了 (huài le) or 不能動了 (bùnéng dòng le)

As you can see, the problem with many translation software programs is the lack of artificial intelligence. Verbatim translation does not work well, as many English and Chinese words have multiple meanings, and the sentence structures of these two languages are quite different. How to do a good job with English to Chinese translation, or vice versa? You will first need to correctly interpret and understand the content in the source language. Then, you can put the other hat on and express the same meaning and sentiments in the destination language. It is all right to use different words and expressions in the translation as long as the idea is correctly communicated. For example, for “not worth a fig”, don’t mention figs at all, as the Chinese do not associate figs with worthless things. Instead, simply say “一文不值 (yī wén bù zhí)”, which means not worth a penny, or worthless. Speaking of Chinese sentence structures, please review Chapters 19 and 25 in “Learn Chinese through Songs and Rhymes“.

Chinese idioms involving the hog

Year of the Hog

Year of the Hog

Soon we will be welcoming the Year of the Hog, or 猪年 (zhū nián). As sounds the same as , a popular greeting for this particular year is:

Everything will be as you wish.

The greeting on the displayed card is:
Zhūshì dàjí
Everything will be very auspicious.

A sow is called 母猪 (mǔzhū), and a hog is called 公猪 (gōngzhū). If you know that 公主 (gōngzhǔ) is a princess, you will definitely understand why it is important to speak Chinese using the correct intonation. The wild boar is called 野豬 (yězhū).

In the popular children’s story “Three Little Pigs”, or 三只小猪 (Sān zhī xiǎo zhū), two of the pigs are dumb and lazy, while the youngest one is intelligent and hardworking. In the Chinese novel “Journey to the West”, or 西游记 (Xīyóujì), the monk’s second disciple 猪八戒 (Zhū Bājiè) is also depicted with faults and strengths, albeit more of the former traits than the latter. In Episode 23 of the Journey to the West by Little Fox, you can see how 猪八戒 (Zhū Bājiè) was fooled into carrying all the luggage for the journeying party, how he shirked the work and wanted to eat all the time.

Generally speaking, most Chinese consider pigs 肮脏 (āngzāng filthy), 愚蠢 (yúchǔn stupid), 贪吃 (tān chī gluttonous) and 鲁莽 (lǔmǎng crude and rash). This is clearly reflected in many idioms involving the pig.

猪朋狗友 zhū péng gǒ yǒ
Fair-weather friends

猪羊变色 zhū yáng biànsè
The pigs and the sheep have discolored.
(The situation has changed completely.)

猪狗不如 zhū gǒ bùrú
Worse than pigs and dogs.

豕突狼奔 shǐ tū láng bēn
Pigs dash forward and wolves flee.
(A scene of hasty retreat of defeated troops.)

 (shǐ) is the formal word for pigs.

一龙一猪 yī lóng yī zhū
One is a dragon, and the other is a pig.
(One is able and virtuous; the other, unworthy.)

泥猪瓦狗 ní zhū wǎ gǒ
Pigs fashioned from mud, dogs made from clay.
(useless things)

指猪骂狗 zhǐ zhū mà gǒ
Point the finger at the pig to chastise the dog.
(Indirectly chide or criticize someone.)

猪头猪脑 zhū tóu zhū nǎo
Having a pig’s head and brains.
(dumb as a pig)

冷水烫猪 lěngshuǐ tàng zhū
Using cold water to scald a pig.
(ineffective; a waste of effort)

人怕出名, 猪怕肥.
Rén pà chūmíng, zhū pà féi.
People shun fame for fear it might bring trouble just like a pig’s fattening calls for slaughter. (Think “Charlotte’s Web”.)

Perhaps this is what Master Confucius had in mind when he made the following remark about true gentlemen:

Rrén bùzhī ér bù yùn.
Even if no one takes note of them, they don’t mind.

Chūnjié kuàilè!
Happy Spring Festival!

Sing “Die Gedanken Sind Frei” in Chinese

Canada Geese Formation

The other day an old song popped into my mind, and I was able to recall two stanzas of the verses. Those I have translated into Chinese, and I am pleased to share them here with you. This German folk song is called “Die Gedanken Sind Frei”, which means “Thoughts are free”. The powerful lines in this song remind me of “Invictus”, a poem written by the British poet William Earnest Henley.

You can find the complete lyrics in German and English at:

To hear Peter Seeger’s version, you can click on this link:

To download the piano sheet music for this song, click on the “Music Sheets” tab at the top.

Sīxiǎng zìyóuzìzài.
One’s thoughts are truly free.

Yǒu shéi néng jiàng tā cāi tòu?
Who is able to guess them?

Tā suíyì qù lái,
They come and go at will,

xiàng lüè yǐng sìchù yóu zǒu.
Like fleeting, roaming shadows.

Biérén wúcóng zhuōmō;
Others cannot fathom them;

lièrén wúfǎbǔhuò.
Hunters cannot capture them.

我们大家都明白 –
Wǒmén dàjiā dōu míngbai –
It’s obvious to all of us –

Sīxiǎng zìyóuzìzài!
One’s thoughts are truly free!

Zòngrán jiāng wǒ qiūjìn
Should someone lock me up

zài yīn’àn de dìjiào lǐ,
in a sinister dungeon,

nà shì báifèi xīnjī
That would be wasteful scheming,

多此一举, 毫无意义.
duōcǐyījǔ háowú yìyì
Unnecessary and without meaning.

Wǒ de sīxiǎng huì cuīhuǐ
My thoughts will destroy

铜墙铁壁, 冲出重围.
tóngqiángtiěbì, chōng chū chóngwéi
The bastion and the close siege,

bǎ xié’è dǎbài
And defeat the evil.

Sīxiǎng zìyóuzìzài!
One’s thoughts are truly free!

As you may have noticed, I have included many four-character Chinese idioms and expressions in the above lines. There are many advantages of using four-character Chinese idioms, espcially in poems and lyrics. They are concise word nuggets that pack a powerful punch in them. Some idioms make a long story short, and many will elicit a knowing knod or smile from the audience.

自由自在 (zìyóuzìzài) means being unrestrained and carefree.

四处游走 (sìchù yóu zǒu) is to wander all about.

无从捉摸 (wúcóng zhuōmō) means no way to fathom or ascertain.

白费心机 (báifèi xīnjī) is to bother one’s head for nothing; in other words, to scheme in vain.

多此一举 (duōcǐyījǔ) means to make take an unnecessary action.

毫无意义 (háowú yìyì) means totally meaningless.

铜墙铁壁 (tóngqiángtiěbì) are copper and iron walls. They represent an unassailable fortress.

冲出重围 (chōng chū chóngwéi) is to fight one’s way out.

Please also review Chapter 28 of “Learn Chinese through Songs and Rhymes” – Chinese Idioms.

Here’s wishing you

Shèngdàn kuàilè!
Merry Christmas!

Xīnnián kuàilè!
Happy New Year!

Chinese Song – Words from the West Wind

Lotus Pond at the Botanical Garden in Taipei, Taiwan

Thanks (but, no thanks) to slugs, deer, squirrels and wild rabbits, we did not have much to harvest from our vegetable garden this year. Still, I am happy to have autumn come and ease us into winter. Admiring the fall scenery of green, gold and red, I think of an old song named “Words from the Westwind”, with music by 黄自 (Huáng Zì), and lyrics by 廖辅叔 (Liào Fǔshū). Here is the link to a nice performance of this song.

Xīfēng de Huà
Words from the West Wind

Qùnián wǒ huílái,
When I came back last year,

nǐmen gāng chuān xīn mián páo.
You had just donned your new gown.

Jīntiān wǒ lái kàn nǐmen;
Today I come to visit you,

Nǐmen biàn pàng yòu biàn gāo!
How stout and tall you have grown!

Nǐmen kě jìde,
I wonder if you still remember,

chí lǐ héhuā liánpeng?
The lotus in the pond formed pods?

Huā shǎo bù chóu méi yánsè,
Blooms are scarce, but there’ll still be colors,

wǒ bǎ shùyè dōu rǎn hóng
For I shall tint the leaves with red.

As you may know, west winds are associated with fair weather. Therefore, you would expect kind words from the west wind. In fact, you can tell that the west wind is talking to a bunch of children. (xīn) means new, and 棉袍 (mián páo) are quilted cotton gowns or jackets. Before winter arrives, parents usually give their children new jackets to wear to keep them warm. The big give-away is on the forth line. Only children and youth can keep growing big and tall. (biàn) means to change or to become. (pàng) means plump, chubby or stout, and (gāo) means tall. (yòu) means again or also.

There is no mention of the season of the year in the lyrics. However, you can guess from the context that it is autumn, or 秋天 (qiūtiān). In the fall, the lotus flowers turn into pods, which contain edible lotus seeds. Lotus seed paste makes delicious filling for moon cakes. Here is an interesting article about lotus pods and lotus seeds.

不愁 (bù chóu) means need not worry about something.

Wǒ xīwàng shìjièshàng suǒyǒu de rén dōu bù chóu chī bù chóu chuān.
I hope all the people in the world won’t have to worry about want of food or clothing.

There are fewer flowers in autumn than in spring, but we need not worry about lack of colors. The west wind will color the leaves red for us. Here the word (rǎn) means to dye. This word also means to contaminate, to acquire a bad habit or to catch a disease.

Dāngxīn bùyào bèi chuánrǎn dào gǎnmào.
Take care not to catch a cold.

Please see Chapter 23 of “Learn Chinese through Songs and Rhymes” for additional words, expressions and songs related to the four seasons.

Playing a card game or board game in Chinese

Chinese word cards

Some time ago I made a board game as a fun way to help with recognizing and remembering Chinese characters. It is fashioned after the game called “Sequence for Kids”. Instead of cards showing different animals, this “Chinese Sequence” uses cards showing Chinese characters or words. It is best played by two people, such as a teacher and a student, or two students who have become familiar with the game.

Game board with Chinese characters


I. Construction

I bought blank cards the size of poker cards, printed the Chinese words on large labels, then affixed the labels onto the blank cards. You will need two identical sets of cards, with 19 cards in each set. The same set of words are printed on two sheets of ledger paper that are joined together to serve as the game board. One half of the game board is pictured here. As the players will be sitting face-to-face across the game board, the two sheets will be joined and positioned such that the Chinese words can be read right-side-up by each player. Unlike Sequence for Kids, I don’t use wild cards. However, the board does provide a free space at each corner. You can use the pieces that come with Sequence for Kids or some other board game, or collect two different colors of plastic bread bag clips (bread tags), 19 pieces each.

The pictures here show the Chinese words with their pinyin annotations. You could omit the pinyin to make the game more challenging.

II. How to Play

Let’s call the players A and B. They are encouraged to speak only Chinese during the game.

Each player chooses the color of the playing pieces and collects his/her pieces in one pile. The players shuffle their own deck of cards then draw the top three cards. If Player A sees a word on the board that matches the first word on one of his/her cards, Player A lays that card aside and places one of his/her pieces on the spot of the board showing that word. Player A draws a new card. Player B gets the turn to do likewise.

The goal of the game is to get four pieces lined up consecutively in a straight row, column or diagonal. A blank space can be counted as part of the sequence. The player would usually try to take advantage of it when feasible. There is strategy involved. Sometimes it is more advantageous to block the progress of the other player’s sequence than to build up your own sequence.

The first person to make the sequence wins the game, and he/she receives one point. The players could agree on a set number of games to play over a period of time. Whoever gets the most points is the final winner.

After the players have familiarized themselves with the first word on the cards, then they will switch to playing the game by matching and calling out the second word on the card with the board. When they have learned all the 57 words, you could make new cards a new boards for them to use.

Another fun way to use the word cards is to give each player 5 or 6 cards and encourage them to make a simple sentence out of the hand. The player gets one point for each card used in the sentence. Those cards are laid aside, and replacement cards drawn.

All right, here are a few card game terms for you to learn:

Qǐng xǐ pái.
Please shuffle the cards.

Qǐng fā pái.
Please deal the cards.

Please give me a card.
Qǐng gěi wǒ yīzhāng pái.


You’re welcome.

Lún dào wǒ le .
My turn.

Lún dào nǐ le.
Your turn.

我的牌是 . . .
Wǒ de pái shì . . .
Your card is . . .

Zhè yī pán wǒ yíng le.
I won this game.

Zhè yī pán nǐ shū le.
You lost this game.

三 比 二.
Sān bǐ èr.
3 to 2.

It’s a draw.

Have fun!

Happy Moon Festival!


To be honest in Chinese

Gray Zucchini Fruits (aka Mexican Squash)

My heart is filled with joy when I go to the garden to check on my gray zucchini plants. The huge dark-green leaves spreading out from turgid stems and the light-green fruits swelling up under attractive bright yellow-orange blossoms are indeed wondrous to behold, but my main concern is, “Which puppies will be ready to eat in the next couple of days?” Stir-fried young zucchinis are tender and mildly sweet – a delight to the discerning palate. (See recipe for Vegetarian’s Delight in my “Tame Migrain the Delicious Way” ebook.) I carefully remove any extra blossoms from the plant, chop the golden petals up and toss them into the frypan as well. Yummy! The Chinese call zucchinis 夏南瓜 (xià nánguā summer pumpkins) or 西葫芦 (xīhúlù western gourds). I prefer the latter name because of its interesting ring.

The Chinese word for fruits in general is 果实 (guǒshí). Our focus today is on the other meanings of the character (shí), which relate to the fact that a fruit is something solid and tangible, and therefore real and true.

When interpreted as a combination of a verb and a nouns, the word 结实 (jiēshi) means to bear fruit. Used as an adjective, 结实 (jiēshi) means sturdy, strong, tough or muscular.

实在 (shízài) means real, true, honest or dependable. As an adverb, it translates to indeed or really.

Tā zuòrén shízài.
He is an honest and dependable person.

Wǒ shízài bù míngbái tā wèishénme líkāi wǒ.
I really don’t understand why she left me.

说实在的, 我很想念她.
Shuō shízài de, wǒ hěn xiǎngniàn tā.
Actually (to state the fact), I miss her very much.

实际上 (shíjìshàng) means in reality or as a matter of fact.

Shíjìshàng wǒ bù zànchéng tā qù bālí.
In fact I don’t approve of his going to Paris.

不切实际 (bùqièshíjì) means unrealistic or impracticable.

Tā de jìhuà bùqièshíjì.
His plan is impractical.

On the contrary, 脚踏实地 (jiǎotàshídì to have one’s feet planted on solid ground) means to be earnest and down-to-earth.

The adjective 真实 (zhēnshí) is used to describe something that is true, real or authentic. 真实的故事 (zhēnshí de gùshi) is a true story. 真实的情况 (zhēnshí de qíngkuàng) is the actual situation or what is actually happening. This is often abbreviated as 实况 (shíkuàng). Therefore 实况转播 (shíkuàng zhuǎnbō) is a live broadcast. Similarly, 实情 (shíqíng) also means the actual situation or the true state of affairs. However, it is usually used to refer to the truth of the matter.

The idiom 名符其实 (míngfúqíshí) describes someone who lives up to his or her name. It can be applied to inanimate objects as well. On the other hand, 名不副实 (míngbùfùshí) means unworthy of the name or title.

Tiāntáng dǎo shì yīgè míngfúqíshí de dùjiàqū.
Paradise Island lives up to its name as a vacation area.

确实 (quèshí) means indeed or truely.

一般说来, 台湾的人确实很友善.
Yībān shuō lái, Táiwān de rén quèshí hěn yǒushàn.
Generally speaking, the people in Taiwan are indeed quite friendly.

货真价实 (huòzhēnjiàshí) describes merchandise that is genuine and fairly priced. When used to describe a person, this expression translates to “through and through”. For example,

Tā shì yīgè huòzhēnjiàshí de shūdāizi.
He is a total bookworm.

To verify, or 证实 (zhèngshí), a physical law, one could do an experiment, or 实验 (shíyàn). The laboratory is called 实验室 (shíyànshì). To gain hands-on experience, it also helps to do fieldwork, or 实习 (shíxí).

忠实 (zhōngshí) means faithful or loyal, and 诚实 (chéngshí) means to be honest and not tell lies. 老实 (lǎoshi) means frank, honest and well-behaved, often borderin on being simple-minded, naive or gullible.

Tā tà lǎoshi le!
He is so gullible!

When you want to start a remark by saying “Frankly” or “To be honest”, you could use the expression 老实说 (lǎoshi shuō).

老实说, 我对他没兴趣.
Lǎoshi shuō, wǒ duì tā méi xìngqù.
To be honest, I’m not interested in him.

To end this lesson on a funny note, I would like you to type “Frankly, I don’t give a fig.” into Google Translate and see what it shows for the Chinese translation. Do you know the correct way of saying this in Chinese?

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