Fear in Chinese

Dark clouds have gathered overhead, heavy with moisture, ready for Halloween, or 万圣节 (Wàn Shèng Jié). It’s time again to talk about words that relate to terror and fear.

As a noun 恐怖 (kǒngbù) means horror or terror. This word also serves as an adjective. 恐怖片 (kǒngbù piàn) is a horror movie.

我不喜欢听恐怖故事.
Wǒ bù xǐhuān tīng kǒngbù gùshi.
I don’t like to listen to horror tales.

恐惧 (kǒngjù) and 惧怕 (jùpà) both mean fear or dread. (gǎn) is a feeling. Therefore, 恐惧感 (kǒngjù gǎn) is the feeling of fear.

他对于考试有很大的恐惧感.
Tā duìyú kǎosh yǒu hěn dà de kǒngjù gǎn.
He has an immense dread of taking exams.

(pà), or 害怕 (hàipà), means to fear, to dread, or to be worried about something. What radicals make up the (pà) character? Yes, one could get so scared that even the heart turns pale and white.

我最怕蛇.
Wǒ zuì pà shé.
I’m scared of snakes the most.

我不怕他.
Wǒ bù pà tā.
I’m not afraid of him.

To the Chinese, as to many other people, (heaven, sky) and (earth) are both very sacred and powerful. When one wants to exaggerate the dread for something, one would often use the expression: 天不怕, 地不怕, 只怕 . . (Tiān bùpà, dì bùpà zhǐ pà . . ), i.e. “More than heaven and earth, I dread . . “.

In fact, there is a saying that goes like this:

天不怕, 地不怕, 只怕老外说中国话.
Tiān bùpà, dì bùpà, zhǐ pà lǎo wài shuō Zhōngguó huà.
More than anything else, I dread listening to foreigners speak Chinese.

老外 (lǎo wài) is slang for a western foreigner. Also, foreigners are often referred to as 洋人 (yángrén). As these terms have some negative connotations, we do not use them in our family. We usually refer to foreigners by their countries, such as 美国人 (měiguórén Americans) or 澳洲人 (àozhōurén Australians). If the country is unknown, then we’d use 外国人 (wàiguórén).

Click on this link to listen to a humorous self-mockery delivered in perfect Mandarin pronunciation.

If you are still unsure about the five tones used in Mandarin, the video I posted recently on YouTube might help.

怕死 (pàsǐ) means to be afraid of dying. However, 怕生 (pàshēng) does not mean being scared of life. Here, (shēn) is the abbreviation of 生人 (shēngrén) or 陌生人 (mòshēngrén), which is a stranger. Therefore, 怕生 (pàshēng) means being shy of strangers.

Note also that 怕人 (pàrén) does not mean being afraid of people. Rather, it means horrible, or scary to people, same as 可怕 (kěpà).

Just like (ài love) often stands for “to like”, (pà fear) can be used in the sense of “to dislike”.

我怕吵闹.
Wǒ pà chǎonào.
I dislike noises.

只怕 (zhǐ pà) can also mean “I’m afraid that . . .”. In this case, it is used in a similar way as 恐怕 (kǒngpà perhaps, I’m afraid that . . .). The following three statements express the same idea

只怕他不会来.
Zhǐ pà tā bùhuì lái.
I’m afraid that he won’t be coming.

他恐怕不会来.
Tā kǒngpà bùhuì lái.
He will probably not be coming.

我担心他不会来.
Wǒ dānxīn tā bù huì lái.
I’m afraid (worried) that he won’t come.

The following sentence illustrates yet another usage of 只怕 (zhǐ pà). In this instance, this expression translates to “as long as”.

天下无难事, 只怕有心人.
Tiānxià wú nánshì, zhǐ pà yǒuxīnrén.
No task is difficult when there is a determined person.
(Where there is a will, there is a way.)

Taboos, 忌讳 (jìhuì) often arise from people’s fear of death, misfortune and unknown factors. It will be worth your while to search the Internet for and read up on some of the common Chinese taboos, particularly with respect to gifting.

Learn Chinese word radical – Foot

(zú) is the Chinese word for feet. It also means sufficient or ample. Today we will only talk about this character in relation to the feet and the actions that are usually performed using the feet.

Soccer and football are bothe called 足球 (zúqiú) in Chinese. To avoid ambiguity, you could refer to football as 美国足球 (Měiguó zúqiú) or 橄榄球 (gǎnlǎnqiú football or rugby).

你喜欢看足球赛吗?
Nǐ xǐhuān kàn zúqiú sài ma?
Do you like to watch soccer games?

(zhǐ) are the toes. As this character sounds exactly the same as (zhǐ fingers, to point to), it’s best to refer to your toes as 脚趾 (jiǎozhǐ), and your fingers as 手指 (shǒuzhǐ).

脚跟 (jiǎogēn) is the heel. As a verb, (gēn) means to follow. Many people use (gēn) as the conjunctive “and” instead of (hé).

他跟我一样高.
Tā gēn wǒ yīyàng gāo.
He is the same height as I am.

(pǎo) is to run or to escape. You’ve had plenty of practice pronouncing this word while reading/singing the “Two Tigers” song discussed in Chapter 1 of “Learn Chinese through Songs and Rhymes“.

(pā) is to lie prone.

他趴在地上.
Tā pā zài dì shàng.
He lay prone on the ground.

(bié) is to have sprained one’s ankle, and 蹩脚 (biéjiǎo) is used for describing inferior work or a shoddy product.

(tà) means to step on, or to tread on. The bicyle, being a vehicle powered by on’e feet treading on the pedals, is called 脚踏车 (jiǎotàchē).

(tī) means to kick. So, 踢踏舞 (tītàwǔ) is tap dance.

(tiào) is to jump, leap, bounce or skip.

跳水 (tiàoshuǐ) is to spring for a dive, as from a diving board, or 跳板 (tiàobǎn).

跳伞 (tiàosǎn) is parachute jumping.

跳房子 (tiàofángzi) is the children’s game of hopscotch.

If your kid is smart, he or she might be able to skip a grade in school, or 跳级 (tiàojiǎo).

跳棋 (tiàoqí) is Chinese checkers. The action of playing chess or checkers is called 下棋 (xiàqí).

你喜欢下跳棋吗?
Nǐ xǐhuān xià tiàoqí ma?
Do you like to play Chinese checkers?

跳脚 (tiàojiǎo) means to stamp one’s foot, as in anger or frustration.

跳票 (tiàopiào) is to have a check bounced.

他开给我的支票跳票了.
Tā kāi gěi wǒ de zhīpiào tiàopiào le.
The check he wrote to me bounced.

(zhuō) is to grasp, catch or capture. It features both the hand radical and the foot radical and is used in a similar way as (zhuā to snatch) but puts the emphasis on the catching rather than the grabbing.

警察捉到一个小偷.
Jǐngchá zhuō dào yī gè xiǎotōu.
The police caught a thief.

Autumn Leaves in Chinese

Autumn Leaves

Autumn Leaves


Sunshine today, rain tomorrow. Colorful leaves come tumbling down like snowflakes. There’s no mistaking that autumn is here. Sandwiched between the hottest and the coldest seasons, spring and fall scenes tend to be the favorite subject matter for poems and songs. The very popular “Autumn Leaves” was originally a French song (“Les Feuilles Mortes” – The Dead Leaves), with music by Joseph Kosma and lyric by Jacques Prévert. You can hear Nat King Cole sing the English version by clicking on this link.

Today we will interpret the English lyric written by Johnny Mercer in Chinese prose. You might imagine yourself writing a letter to a sweetheart who has been away for some time. To flesh out the verses, it is necessary to add words here and there that are not in the original lines but we will try to keep the embellishment to a minimum so as not to be guilty of exaggeration. In Chinese, embellishing and exaggerating a story when retelling it to another person is called 添枝加叶 (tiānzhījiāyè add branches and leaves), 加盐加醋 (jiā yán jiā cù add salt and vinegar), or 加油添酱 (jiā yóu tiān jiàng add oil and a thick sauce).

(tiān), like (jiā), means to add or to increase.

Try and see if you can get the meaning of any unfamiliar words by reading them in the following context.

秋天的叶子飘过我的窗户.
Qiūtiān de yèzi piāo guò wǒde chuānghù.
The autumn leaves float by my window.

秋天的叶子, 有的绯红, 有的金黄.
Qiūtiān de yèzi, yǒude fēihóng, yǒude jīnhuáng.
Some of the autumn leaves are bright red, some are golden yellow.

我眼前浮现你丰满的嘴唇,
Wǒ yǎnqián fúxiàn nǐ fēngmǎn de zuǐchún,
Before my eyes your plump lips appear,

使我想起我们夏日的热吻.
shǐ wǒ xiǎngqǐ wǒmén xià rì de rè wěn.
bringing back the memory of our hot kisses in the summer.

我也想起你那晒黑了的手,
Wǒ yě xiǎngqǐ nǐ nà shài hēi le de shǒu,
I also recall your sun-burned hand,

以及我们以前手牵手的情景.
yǐjí wǒmén yǐqián shǒu qiān shǒu de qíngjǐng
and how we used to hold hands.

自从你离开以后, 日子变得漫长难挨.
Zìcóng nǐ líkāi yǐhòu, rìzi biàn de màncháng nán ái.
Since you left, the days have become long and hard to endure.

再不久就会听到冬天凄凉的歌声.
Zài bùjiǔ jiù huì tīngdào dōngtián qīliáng de gē shēng.
Pretty soon we will hear the sound of winter’s desolate song.

但是, 亲爱的, 我最想念你的时候
Dànshì, qīnài de, wǒ zuì xiǎngniàn nǐ de shíhòu
However, beloved, the time I miss you the most

还是在秋叶开始掉落的时节.
háishì zài qiū yè kāishǐ diào luò de shíjié.
is still when the autumn leaves start to fall.

(fú) means to float. It also means superficial, flighty, or unstable (xiàn) means to appear, to show, being at the present, or existing. 浮现 (fúxiàn) means to appear in one’s mind.

丰满 (fēngmǎn) means well developed or plenty.

晒黑 (shài hēi) is how the Chinese describes getting tanned by the sun. The Chinese word for “to burn” is (shāo). If the skin is indeed injured by the burn, you would use 烧伤了 (shāoshāng le) to describe it.

以及 (yǐjí) means as well as.

情景 (qíngjǐng) means scene or circumstance.

自从 (zìcóng since) is a conjunctive used in forming complex sentences.

漫长 (màncháng) means very long, and 凄凉 (qīliáng) means bleak or miserable.

秋叶 (qiū yè autumn leaves) is the short form of 秋天的叶子 (Qiūtiān de yèzi).

掉落 (diào luò) means to fall or drop.

时节 (shíjié) is time or season.

Keeping a Secret in Chinese

The Chinese word for secrets is 秘密 (mìmì). (mì) means secret or mysterious. (mì) can mean close, closed, dense, closely spaced, or secret. Today we will focus on the last definition of this word mentioned above.

我告诉你一个秘密.
Wǒ gàosù nǐ yī gè mìmì.
Let me tell you a secret.

秘方 (mìfāng) is a secret recipe. 祖传 (zǔchuan) means passed down from one’s ancestors. It used to be very difficult to find out how certain Chinese foods are prepared, because the 祖传秘方 (zǔchuan mìfāng heirloom secret recipe for food or herbal medicine) are jealously guarded from being leaked to outsiders. Granted that it’s still not likely for a restaurant to hand you the recipe for your favorite dish, many “secret” tips are now freely shared on the Internet.

秘史 (mìshǐ) means secret history or an inside story. Many Chinese movies and TV serials are based on the unofficial history of ancient Chinese dynasties.

秘书 (mìshū) is a secretary, an assistant designated to handle confidential matters or documents.

奥秘 (àomì) is profound mystery. (ào) stands for 深奥 (shēnào profound or esoteric).

神秘 (shénmì) means mysterious or mystical.

诡秘 (guǐmì) means secretive and clandestine.

隐秘 (yǐnmì) is a deep secret.

秘密 (mìmì) can also be used as an adverb, as shown below.

他们秘密地订了婚.
Tāmen mìmì de dìng le hūn.
They got engaged secretly.

You could also say:

他们偷偷地订了婚.
Tāmen tōutōu de dìng le hūn.
They got engaged in secret.

机密 (jīmì) is classified or confidential information.

我们不可以泄漏公司的机密.
Wǒmén bù kěyǐ xièlòu gōngsī de jīmì.
We should not leak our company’s confidential information.

密件 (mìjiàn) is classified material or a confidential document.

密码 (mìmǎ) is a secret code. 解密 (jiě mì) means to decode.

密约 (mìyuē) is a secret agreement or treaty.

密告 (mìgào) is to inform on someone secretly. 告密 (gàomì) has the same meaning.

他常常向老板告密.
Tā chángcháng xiàng lǎobǎn gàomì.
He often goes to the boss to inform on others.

You could also say:

他常常向老板打小报告.
Tā chángcháng xiàng lǎobǎn dǎ xiǎo bàogào.
He often goes to the boss to inform on other employees.

保密 (bǎomì) is to keep a secret. So, before you tell someone a secret, you might want to get some assurance that it won’t be divulged to other people.

你要保密哟!
Nǐ yào bǎomì yō!
You must keep it a secret, OK? (Cross your heart!)

千万不要告诉别人.
Qiānwàn bùyào gàosù biérén.
Under any circumstances don’t tell anyone else.

And we all know this is exactly how a secret gets spread around and become an open secret, or 公开的秘密 (gōngkāi de mìmì). In fact, to have a secret kept in strict confidence, you will need to start with yourself. If you cannot resist telling the secret to someone, how could you expect another person to keep it for you?

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