In the “Lift Your Veil” song discussed in “Learn Chinese through Songs and Rhymes“, the eyebrows of a pretty girl are likened to a crescent moon, her eyes to shiny pearls, her cute little mouth to cherries, and her sunny face to a tree-ripened apple. When we say that something is like something else, we are employing a figure of speech called a “simile”.
We have learned that a mule is considered dumb, as in 笨得像只骡 (bèn de xiàng zhī luó.) As pigs are not put to work and seem to do nothing but eat and sleep, they are the symbol of laziness. 懒得像只豬 (lǎn de xiàng zhī zhū) As for the symbol of slowness, both East and West agree that the snail is it – 慢得像只蜗牛 (màn de xiàng zhī wōniú).
急得像热锅上的蚂蚁 (jí de xiàng règuōshàngdèmǎyǐ) means to be anxious as ants on a hot wok.
美得像仙女下凡 (měi de xiàng xiānnǚ xiàfán) means to be beautiful as a fairy descended to the mundane world. The classical four-character equivalent is 美如天仙 (měi rú tiānxiān).
Classical Chinese similes make use of 如 (rú to be like), 若 (ruò to resemble), and 似 (sì to be similar to). Following are a few common examples.
胆小如鼠 (dǎnxiǎo rú shǔ) means timid as a mouse, or cowardly. 如龙似虎 (rúlóngsìhǔ) means to be as ferocious as dragons and tigers.
呆若木鸡 (dāiruòmùjī) means to be dumbstruck or stunned, like a chicken made of wood.
如花似锦 (rúhuāsìjǐn) means to be beautiful and bright like flowers and silk brocade.
Tā fàngqì le rúhuāsìjǐn de qiántú, chūjiā qù le.
He abandoned his bright and promising future to become a monk.
出家 (chūjiā) specifically means to become a monk rather than just leaving one’s home.
归心似箭 (guīxīnsìjiàn) means to be eager to speed home.
Fùqin bìng zhòng, wǒ guīxīnsìjiàn.
My father is very ill; I can’t wait to get back home.
口若悬河 (kǒuruòxuánhé) means to be eloquent and voluble as a overflowing river.
Tā kǒuruòxuánhé, jiǎng le yī gè duō zhōngtóu.
He talked eloquently for over one hour.
如临大敌 (rúlíndàdí) means to be anxious and tense as if faced with formidable enemy.
期考快到了; 我们加紧复习, 如临大敌.
Qīkǎo kuài dào le; wǒmén jiājǐn fùxí, rúlíndàdí.
The final exam is coming; we step up our review studies as if gearing up to face a major foe.
骨瘦如柴 (gǔshòurúchái) means thin as a stick of firewood, or thin as a rail.
Kàn tā gǔshòurúchái, zhēn lìngrén dānxīn.
Looking at his thin frame, it really makes one worry.
如坐针毡 (rúzuòzhēnzhān) decribes an uneasy feeling akin to sitting on a bed of pins and needles.
Tā méi zéguài wǒ, dàn wǒ rúzuòzhēnzhān.
He did not blame me, but I felt ill at ease.
心乱如麻 (xīnluànrúmá) decribes how one is disconcerted like a tangled skein of flax.
Wǒ xīnluànrúmá, bùzhī gāi zěnme bàn cái hǎo.
My mind is in such a tangle I don’t know what to do.
心如刀割 (xīnrúdāogē) is to feel as if a knife were piercing one’s heart.
Tīng le zhè huà, tā xīnrúdāogē.
After hearing these words, she felt as if a knife were piercing her heart.