Chinese idioms that are easy to figure out (2)

Last week we talked about 一石二鸟 (yī shí èr niǎo) being the equivalent of “killing two birds with one stone”. In fact, it is the modern equivalent of the familiar western idiom. The original Chinese idiom is 一箭双雕 (yījiànshuāngdiāo), which means shooting two hawks with one arrow. As you continue to learn Chinese, you will come across a mix of modern and classical Chinese idioms. Of these, the classical idioms tend to be more literary and refined. The modern ones are easier to understand but some of them can be quite coarse. For example, there is 五十步笑百步 (wǔshíbùxiàobǎibù), which refers to a soldier who retreats fifty steps mocking another one who retreats a hundred steps, i.e. the pot calling the kettle black. In the commoner’s language, this becomes 鼻屎笑眼屎 (bí shǐ xiào yǎnshǐ), i.e. the booger in the nose laughing at the gunk in the eyes.

Today we will look at two groups of common set phrases that follow an easily recognized pattern. The expressions with the pinyin for the characters all strung together are accredited idioms. The conjunctives employed in these idioms can just as well be used to form other similar expressions, as we shall see below.

又白又嫩 (yòubáiyòunèn) means white and tender. 又细又白 (yòuxìyòubái) means delicate and white. These expressions usually refer to the complexion of a pretty young lady.

又大又圆(yòudàyòuyuán) means big and round, like the moon in mid-autumn.

又快又好 (yòukuàiyòuhǎo) refers to how a job was done well and speedily.

又臭又长 (yòuchòu yòucháng) means loathsome (stinks) and long, like a boring lecture.

又冷又饿 (yòulěngyòuè) describes the miserable state of being cold and hungry.

So, you can see that 又 … 又 … means “both … and …” Therefore, you could easily follow this pattern and insert two related attributes to form a new expression. For example,

Tā de bǎobǎo yòu féi yòu dà.
Her baby is chubby and large.

Tā de dìdi yòu shòu yòu xiǎo.
Her brother is skinny and small.

This conjunctive can also be used to join two actions.

又哭又笑 (yòukūyòuxiào) means to cry and laugh at the same time.

又打又骂 (yòudǎyòumà) means to hit and also chide (someone).

又哭又闹 (yòukūyòunào) is to cry and make a scene.

Háizǐ men yòu pǎo yòu tiào.
The children were running and bouncing about.

Tā duì Wēilián yòu ài yòu hèn.
She loves and loathes William at the same time.

The following expressions contain the conjunctive “neither … nor …”.

不慌不忙 (bùhuāngbùmáng) describes how one is neither flustered nor in a hurry.

不卑不亢 (bùbēibùkàng) describes how one conducts oneself properly, being neither too modest nor too haughty.

不中不西 (bùzhōngbùxī) means neither Chinese nor western. This expression is often used in a deprecating remark.

不大不小 (bùdàbùxiǎo) means not too large and not too small, i.e. just the right size. Similarly, you could form such expressions as 不多不少 (bù duō bù shǎo not too many and not too few), 不高不矮 (bù gāo bù ǎi not too tall and not too short) and 不胖不瘦 (bù pàng bù shòu not too plump and not too skinny).

In the following examples, the conjunctive is used to join two verbs.

不知不觉 (bùzhībùjué) means neither knowing nor feeling. It is often used as an adverbial expression that means unconsciously or unwittingly.

不眠不休 (bù mián bù xiū) describes how one works tirelessly, not sleeping nor taking a rest.

理睬 (lǐcǎi) means to pay attention or to show interest in someone.

Tā duì wǒ bù lǐ bù cǎi.
He takes no notice of me.


3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Anthony Bogadek
    Jan 30, 2013 @ 05:13:20

    Hi, Miss Lin,
    Thank you for the new list of idioms. Again I’ve got a few small points:
    1. Laset week …. : i.e. Last week ….
    2. … refers to a solder who retreats …. : i.e. … refers to a soldier who retreats …
    3. … as wel shall see below. i.e. … as we shall see below.
    4. … can also be used to joing two actions. i.e. can also be used to join two …
    5. … is used to joing two verbs. i.e. … is used to joing two verbs.


    • likeabridge
      Jan 30, 2013 @ 15:16:51

      Hi Anthony,

      Much obliged for your spelling corrections. Sorry to have confused you with the “joing”. Perhaps my fingers are becoming too inventive.


  2. Anthony Bogadek
    Jan 30, 2013 @ 05:17:00

    Dear Ms. Lin,
    Oh, I made a spelling blunder in No.5 of my previous post; should be
    5. … is used to joing two verbs. i.e. … is used to join two verbs.


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