Chinese word for pain or hardship

The bitter taste is called 苦味 (kǔwèi). Once in a while, you may come across a cucumber that tastes bitter. That’s nothing compared to the profound bitter taste of 苦瓜 (kǔguā bitter gourd). Chinese herb medicine literature cites anti-inflammatory properties of bitter substances, such as bile and bitter gourds, which are sometimes used to bring down fevers.

(kǔ) also means pain or hardship. Therefore, when someone says “好苦啊! (Hǎo kǔ a)”, it could refer to something bitter being ingested, or it could refer to an experience of hardship and suffering.

痛苦 (tòngkǔ) could be physical pain or emotional pain. To make it clear that it is an emotional agony, you could say 心里的痛苦 (xīnli de tòngkǔ).

(kǔ) also means laborious, as in 辛苦 (xīnkǔ toilsome, working hard, taking pains). 差事 (chāishi) is an errand or a task assignment. The mailman is called 邮差 (yóuchāi). A hard and/or unprofitable job or mission is called 苦差 (kǔchāi).

他弄丢了我辛辛苦苦写好的报告.
Tā nòng diū le wǒ xīnxīnkǔkǔ xiě hǎo de bàogào.
He lost the report that I had taken a lot of trouble to write.
(There you go – another Chinese idiom in the AABB format.)

Although both (zhōng) and (xīn) refer to one’s inner feelings, 苦衷 (kǔzhōng) and 苦心 (kǔxīn) have different meanings. 苦衷 (kǔzhōng) means a predicament that one is reluctant to mention, while 苦心 (kǔxīn) means painstaking effort.

我有我的苦衷.
Wǒ yǒu wǒ de kǔzhōng.
I have my difficulties (or reasons that I cannot share with you).

Instead of the above sentence, you could use the expression “有苦难说. (Yǒu kǔ Nánshōu)” to convey the same meaning.

我明白他的苦心.
Wǒ míngbai tā de kǔxīn.
I know very well the trouble he is taking.

苦难 (kǔnàn) is misery or suffering.
苦闷 (kǔmèn) is a feeling of dejection.
苦恼 (kǔnǎo) is feeling vexed or worried.

When you feel miserable, you might frown and show a sad face.

他为什么愁眉苦脸?
Tā wèishénme chóuméikǔliǎn?
Why is he making a sad face?

If you have family or friends, you might pour out your woes to them. This is called 诉苦 (sùkǔ complain or vent). Or, you might just force a grin. A sad, helpless smile is called 苦笑 (kǔxiào).

苦力 (kǔlì) is the original Chinese word for coolies, or unskilled Asian laborers.

吃苦 (chīkǔ) means to endure hardship. 受苦 (shòukǔ) means to suffer hardship or have a rough time.

Can you guess at the meaning of the following Chinese saying?

吃得苦中苦, 方为人上人.
Chī de kǔ zhōng kǔ, fāng wéi rén shàng rén.

Life offers a mixture of joys and sorrows. It is a blessing if you have someone to share your weal and woe. In a previous article we mentioned a few ways of popping the question. The following favorable response incorporates the phrase 同甘共苦 (tónggāngòngkǔ to share weal and woe).

我愿意和你同甘共苦.
Wǒ yuànyì hé nǐ tónggāngòngkǔ.
I want to be with you for better or for worse.

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