What’s the buzz?

In summer, or 夏天(xiàtiān), I can imagine people living in hotter climates waving their arms to drive off the 苍蝇 (cāngying flies) that are sampling their foods, or smacking their exposed arms and legs to smash the 蚊子 (wénzi mosquitoes) that are sucking their blood. If you have a good ear, you will be able to hear the buzz of a single fly or the hum of a single mosquito. Otherwise, wait until they come in swarms, then you will be sure to hear them.

I’ve been told that when you hear the drone of a 蜜蜂(mìfēng bee), it’s best to stay still and hold your breath or minimize breathing; and I know that when I hear the louder hum of a 蜂鸟 (fēngniǎo hummingbird), it’s usually too late to grab a camera.

So, we are talking about Chinese words that contain the radical for bugs, or (chóng). You will see this radical in the names of insects, or 昆虫 (kūnchóng), such as the following:

Do you recognize this character?

甲虫 (jiǎchóng beetle)
毛虫 (máochóng caterpillar)
蚂蚁 (mǎyǐ ant)
蝴蝶 (húdié butterfly)
蜻蜓 (qīngtíng dragonfly)
(chán cicada)
蚱蜢 (zhàměng grasshopper)
蝗虫 (huángchóng locust)
螳螂 (tángláng mantis)
萤火虫 (yínghuǒchóng firefly)

On 6/13/12, you learned that the ranking is equivalent to an “A”. Therefore, you may be tempted to interpret 甲虫 (jiǎchóng beetle) as “the top-notch bug”. However, also means finger nail, shell or armor. It is this meaning that applies to the beetles.

蜜蜂是益虫.
Mìfēng shì yìchóng.
Bees are are beneficial insects.

蝗虫是害虫.
Huángchóng shì hàichóng.
Locusts are destructive insects.

Actually, the names of mollusks and some worms, reptiles and amphibians also take on the (chóng) radical. For example:

蜗牛 (wōniú snail)
蚯蚓 (qiūjǐn earthworm)
青蛙 (qīngwā frog)
(shé snake)
螃蟹 (pángxiè crab)

Now, take a guess at what 大虫 (dàchóng) means. Literally it means a large bug. However, in many localities and in old literature, this term refers to a tiger. And tigers are not the only mammals that are referred to as (chóng). An idler or lazybones is called 懒惰虫 (lǎnduò chóng lazy bug) or 懒虫 (lǎn chóng). 懒惰猫 (lǎnduò māo lazy cat) or 懒猫 (lǎn māo) means the same thing.

Click here to learn a song in praise of fireflies, 萤火虫 (yínghuǒchóng). After you have become familiar with the lyrics, click here to listen to the song and watch the beautiful images.

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Anthony B.
    Jun 27, 2012 @ 04:41:19

    This is a beautiful lesson. I can’t wait for them to be posted online.

    If you don’t mind, I have a few small points regarding spelling that I would like to bring to your notice :
    1. the plural form of the word mosquito, in British English, is spelt “mosquitoes”; your text gives “mosquitos”.
    2. paragraph 3: a spelling error. “I’ve been old …” I guess should be” I’ve been told …
    3. paragraph 3: in British English “hummingbird’ is a hyphenated word: “humming-bird”. Maybe American spelling is different. I don’t know.

    Thank you so much for your lovely lessons.
    A bee

    Reply

  2. likeabridge
    Jun 27, 2012 @ 12:53:06

    Thank you for pointing out the English spelling errors. These have been duly corrected, although mosquitos is also a valid spelling. (When I hit such words as tomato, potato, mosquito, I usually have to look them up in the dictionary to check their plural form. Can’t see why they should all turn into toes.) Here in the USA, hummingbird is usually spelled without the hyphen. We also refer to them as hummers or humdingers. 🙂

    Reply

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