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.

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