All things big and small

The Chinese character (dà big, large, major) was derived from the pictograph of a person with legs spread out and arms extended on both sides. On the other hand, the character (xiǎo small, petty, minor) assumes a much humbler form. Knowing these two simple characters, you will only have to learn the other 50% of many of the following expressions.

大摇大摆 (dàyáodàbǎi) describes how a self-satisfied person swaggers.

Tā dàyáodàbǎi de zǒu le jìnlai.
He walked in with a swagger.

大吃大喝 (dàchī dàhē) is to gorge on food, or to have an extravagant meal.

Tāmen dàchī dàhē le sān tiān.
They gluttonized and binged for three days.

The following four expressions can also be used as verbs in a sentence:

大吹大擂 (dàchuīdàlèi) is to make a big noise blowing one’s own horn.

大吵大闹 (dàchǎodànào) is to make a big racket.

大惊小怪 (dàjīngxiǎoguài) is to make a fuss about nothing.

大呼小叫 (dàhūxiǎojiào) is to shout and scream up and down.

大材小用 (dàcáixiǎoyòng) means to place talented people on unimportant jobs, like using top-quality timber for ordinary products.

派他当邮差, 真是大材小用.
Pài tā dāng yóuchāi, zhēnshì dàcáixiǎoyòng.
Assigning him the postman position is truly a waste of talent.

没大没小 (méidàméixiǎo without manners) is an expression used to chide someone who fails to show deference to a superior or a senior person. If you are supposed to bow to a person, but instead give him a pat on the shoulder, then you are guilty of this offense.

On the other hand, 不大不小 (bùdàbùxiǎo) means just the right size.

大同小异 (dàtóngxiǎoyì) means generally the same but with minor differences.

Tāmen de yìjiàn dàtóngxiǎoyì.
Their opinions are essentially the same.

因小失大 (yīnxiǎoshīdà) is the foolish act of trying to save a little only to lose a lot more, or trying to gain a small advantage only to lose a greater opportunity. This expression is usually employed in a friendly advice:

Bùyào yīnxiǎoshīdà.
Keep the big picture in mind.

大大小小 (dàdàxiǎoxiǎo) means “big and small”, or all-inclusive, such as in 各种大大小小的商店 (gèzhǒng dàdàxiǎoxiǎo de shāngdiàn all kinds of shops, large and small).

So, 大街小巷 (dàjiēxiǎoxiàng large streets and small lanes) means everywhere in town.

I believe most people will try to avoid confrontations whenever possible. When there is a big problem, you’d try and turn it into a small problem. And when there is a small issue, you’d try to eliminate it altogether. This spirit is captured in the Chinese adage: 大事化小, 小事化了. (Dàshìhuàxiǎo, xiǎoshìhuàliǎo.)

Find out what 小巫见大巫 (xiǎowūjiàndàwū) means and see if you can think of a situation to which this expression applies. You might want to read the article I posted on 10/31/12.


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