耳 (ěr) stands for ears or a thing that looks like ears. Many Chinese characters associated with the ear or hearing take on the word radical 耳 (ěr). We often refer to this as the Big Ear radical as there is also a reduced form, which looks like this: 阝. We nickname the latter the Small Ear radical.
You may have heard someone introduce himself or herself to you this way:
Wǒ xìng Chén, ěr dōng Chén.
My surname is Chen, the Chen that’s made up of ear and east.
As there are quite a few words pronounced the same as 陈 (Chén), naming the components of the character removes the ambiguity.
The everyday word for ears is 耳朵 (ěrduo).
咬耳朵 (yǎoěrduo) does not mean biting someone’s ear. It just appears to be so when you whisper into his or her ear. A more formal word for whispering is 耳语 (ěryǔ). The phrase 交头接耳 (jiāotóujiēěr) aptly describes the act of putting heads close together and speaking into each other’s ears.
悦耳 (yuè’ěr) means pleasing to the ear, while 刺耳 (cìěr) means harsh and grating on the ear.
耳熟 (ěrshú) means to sound familiar.
Zhè míngzi hěn ěrshú.
This name sounds quite familiar.
耳边风 (ěrbiānfēng) is the wind that passes the ears. It refers to unheeded advice.
Tā bǎ wǒde huà dàngzuò ěrbiānfēng.
She takes no heed of my words.
If someone gives you good advice, you had better “clean your ears and listen with respectful attention”.
I’m all ears.
耳环 (ěrhuán) are earrings.
耳鸣 (ěrmíng) is tinnitus or ringing in the ear. If you have a severe case of this affliction, you might want to consult the otolaryngology department, or 耳鼻喉科 (ěrbíhóukē), at your clinic.
白木耳 (báimùěr) is an edible fungus known as “white tree-ear” because of its color and shape and the way it protrudes from the tree bark. 银耳 (yíněr silver tree-ears) is just a prettier name for the same thing. This gelatinous food stuff is often found in a sweet soup served as a dessert. You could also soak the dried tree-ears for 20 minutes or so then chop and add them to a stir-fry to enhance the crunch.
聪明 (cōngmíng) literally means having a keen sense of hearing as well as sharp eyes. This is the Chinese word for being intelligent or smart.
The formal Chinese word for “to hear” is 闻 (wén). So, 新闻 (xīnwén) means news. In everyday speech, we use 听 (tīng) as the word for hearing or listening to something. 听话 (tīnghuà) means to heed someone’s words or to obey someone (like your parents). I’d like to point out here that the corresponding traditional Chinese character is 聽 (tīng), which clearly shows that listening involves one’s ears, not one’s mouth.
Wǒ tīng dào yī gè qíguài de shēngyīn.
I hear a strange sound.
Please note that, in everyday speech, 闻 (wén) means to smell.
Wǒ wén dào yī gè qíguài de qìwèi.
I smell a strange odor.
聊 (liáo) as a verb means to chat, as in 聊天 (liáotiān chitchat). This is what you might tell your friend or neighbor:
Yǒu kòng guòlái liáo liáotiān.
Come over for a chat when you have some free time.
The extra 聊 (liáo) in the above sentence imparts a tone of friendliness and familiarity.
聋 (lóng) means to be deaf or hard of hearing. In this case, a 助听器 (zhùtīngqì hearing aid) might be of help.