Common Chinese words containing the rice radical

Farmers planting rice in a rice paddy in Taiwan
Farmers planting rice in a rice paddy in Taiwan

Do you know why one’s 88th birthday is called 米寿 (mǐ shòu) in Chinese-speaking countries? 米 (mǐ) is uncooked rice, and 寿 (shòu) means longevity or birthday. The answer can be found by examining the 米 (mǐ) character. There is a cross in the center, namely a 十 (shí), or ten. At the top is an inverted 八 (bā), or eight; and at the bottom is a right-side-up 八 (bā). Voila! 八十八 means 88. By the way, the Chinese consider 8 an auspicious number.

As it sounds like the first syllable of “meter”, the character 米 (mǐ) was chosen to represent the distance unit “meter”. Therefore, 80 米 (bāshí mǐ) means 80 meters. On the other hand, 80 粒米 (bāshí lì mǐ) means 80 grains of rice. (See Chapters 6 and 7 of “Learn Chinese through Songs and Rhymes” for a review of the commonly used units of measure in Chinese.)

The following characters take on the sound of 米 (mǐ), but with different tones.

咪咪 (mīmī) mimics the sound of a cat mewing. People usually say咪咪 to greet their cat.
猫咪 (māomī) means kitty.
妈咪 (māmī) is the term of endearment Mommy.

眯 (mī), with the “eye” radical on the left side, is to narrow one’s eyes. It also means to close one’s eyes for a moment to take a brief nap.
谜 (mí), with the “word” radical on the left side, is a riddle.
迷 (mí), with the “walk” radical on the left side, is to become lost, confused or enchanted.

吉米被玛莉迷住了.
Jímǐ bèi mǎ lì mí zhùle
Jimmy was enchanted by Mary.

粒 (lì) is a grain or a granule. It is a unit for counting small solid items, like grains of rice or wheat, sand, grapes and candies. 颗粒状 (kēlì zhuàng) means granular.

糙米 (cāomǐ) is brown rice. 糯米 (nuòmǐ)is glutinous rice, and 粳米 (gēngmǐ) is a type of rice with round grains. 粟 (sù) is millet. 糠 (kāng) is rice chaff or rice bran. 粽子(zòngzi) are glutinous rice dumplings.

我们通常用糯米包粽子.
Wǒmen tōngcháng yòng nuòmǐ bāo zòngzi.
We usually use glutinour rice to make rice dumplings.

Here is a video showing how the rice is wrapped in the leaves.

粥 (zhōu) is rice porridge, which many Chinese in the southern provinces eat at breakfast.

糊 (hú) is a paste you can make by cooking rice with water. This word can also be used as a verb that means to paste onto something. As an adjective, it is used to describe burnt food.

粘 (zhān) means to glue or stick onto.

他用浆糊把布告粘在墙上.
Tā yòng jiāng hú bǎ bùgào zhān zài qiáng shàng.
He glued the placard on the wall with a paste.

Add some salt, sugar and liquid to ground rice, and then steam the mixture, and you will get a steamed cake, or 糕 (gāo). Steamed Daikon Radish Rice Cake is a wholesome and delicious treat. You can find it on many dim sum menus. A recipe for making this steamed rice cake at home is included in “Tame Migraine the Delicious Way“.

If you messed up the cake while preparing it, you will probably exclaim,

糟糕! 放太少水了!
Zāogāo! Fàng tài shǎo shuǐle!
Oops (how terrible)! I added too little water!

As a noun, 料 (liào) or 材料 (cáiliào), means material or ingredients. 作料 (zuóliao) are condiments or seasonings. 粉 (fěn) can be a powder or starch, or it can mean vermicelli or noodles. 糖 (táng) is sugar, and 糖粉 (táng fěn) is powdered sugar.

As a verb, 料 (liào) means to anticipate. 不料 (bùliào) means unexpectedly, or to one’s surprise.

我以为他会感激我; 不料他在生我的气.
Wǒ yǐwéi tā huì gǎnjī wǒ; bùliào tā zài shēng wǒ de qì.
I thought he would be grateful to me; but surprisingly, he was mad at me

With the stock market, what goes up must come down. With food, what goes in must come out. As rice is a major staple food in China, it is not surprising to see the rice radical in these words for excrement, dung or droppings: 屎 (shǐ), 粪 (fèn). When one sees a beautiful and intelligent young lady paired with a good-for-nothing man, one might sigh and remark:

“癞蛤蟆吃到了天鹅肉;一朵鲜花插到了牛粪上.”
“Làihámá chī dàole tiān’é ròu; yī duǒ xiānhuā chā dào le niú fèn shàng.”
“The toad got to eat swan meat; a flower was inserted into cow dung.”

What’s the word for urine in Chinese? I’ll give you a hint: It looks similar to 屎 (shǐ), but contains the character for water.

类 (lèi) means category, class or type. 人类 (rénlèi) is the human race. 分类 (fēnlèi) means to classify.

粗 (cū) means wide, thick, careless, crude or rough. In contrast, 精 (jīng) means refined, sharp, excellent, shrewed, essence, choice, or energy. 粗心大意 (cūxīn dàyì) is a commonly used expression.

他做事粗心大意.
Tā zuòshì cūxīn dàyì.
He is careless with his work.

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