Using Chinese idioms in writing

Rufous Hummingbird hovering around     Blueberry Blossoms

Here is an account of my recent encounter with a Rufous hummingbird. I have highlighted the popular four-character Chinese idioms featured in this article. It will also be good for you to look at how some of the adverbs and conjunctives are used in the sentences. are discussed in Chapters 17, 18 and 25 of “Learn Chinese through Songs and Rhymes”.

又是大地回春, 万象更新的时节.
Yòu shì dàdì huíchūn wànxiàng gēngxīn de shíjié.
It’s that season again when the earth springs back to life anew.

园里的蓝莓灌木开满了小巧玲珑的白花儿.
Yuán li de lánméi guànmù kāi mǎn le xiǎoqiǎolínglóng de bái huār.
The blueberry bushes in the garden are full of little white blossoms.

蜜蜂穿梭其间采集花蜜及花粉.
Mìfēng chuānsuō qíjiān cǎijí huāmì jí huāfěn.
The bees go from one floweret to another to collect nectar and pollens.

偶尔也有蜂鸟光顾,
ǒu’ěr yě yǒu fēngniǎo guānggù,
Occasionally a hummingbird visits,

但是往往一眨眼就不见了.
dànshì wǎngwǎng yīzhǎyǎn jiù bùjiànle.
but it usually disappears in a blink of the eyes.

我一直希望能够录到蜂鸟的影片,
Wǒ yīzhí xīwàng nénggòu lù dào fēngniǎo de yǐngpiàn,
I’ve always wished to be able to capture a video the hummingbird,

但是没有闲空来守株待兔.
dànshì méiyǒu xiánkòng lái shǒuzhūdàitù
but I don’t have the time to sit there and wait for the bird to appear.

那天我正在为新种的蔬菜拍照,
Nǎtiān wǒ zhèngzài wèi xīn zhòng de shūcài pāizhào,
That day, while taking pictures of the newly planted vegetables,

忽然听到蜂鸟振翅的嗡嗡声.
hūrán tīngdào fēngniǎo zhèn chì de wēngwēng shēng.
I suddenly heard the hum of rapid flapping of wings.

我赶忙切换到录影模式,
Wǒ gǎnmáng qiēhuàn dào lùyǐng móshì,
I quickly switched to the video mode,

竟然录到了小蜂鸟吸允花蜜的景象,
jìngrán lù dào le xiǎo fēngniǎo xīyǔn huāmì de jǐngxiàng,
and actually captured a scene of the little hummer sucking nectar.

令我喜出望外.
lìng xǐchūwàngwài.
I was pleasantly surprised. (This gave me unexpected joy.)

想必你们也会替我高兴能够如愿以偿.
Xiǎngbì nǐmen yě huì tì wǒ gāoxìng nénggòu rúyuànyǐcháng.
I think you will also be happy for me for having had my wish fulfilled.

大地 (dàdì) is the earth or Mother Earth.
回春 (huíchūn) means returning to spring or bringing back to life.
万象 (wànxiàng) refers to all phenomena on earth.
更新 (gēngxīn) is to renew.
花蜜 (huāmì) is nectar.
花粉 (huāfěn) means pollen.
蓝莓 (lán méi) are blueberries.
小巧玲珑 (xiǎoqiǎolínglóng) means tiny and exquisite.
灌木 (guànmù) is a shrub or a bush.
蜜蜂 (mìfēng) are honeybees or bees in general.
穿梭 (chuānsuō) is to shuttle back and forth.
其间 (qíjiān), as used here, means “among them”.
偶尔 (ǒu’ěr) means occasionally.
蜂鸟 (fēngniǎo) are hummingbirds.
光顾 (guānggù) is to patronize.
往往 (wǎngwǎng) means often or frequently.
一眨眼 (yīzhǎyǎn) means in an eyewink.
不见了 (bùjiànle) is to disappear or to be missing.
一直 (yīzhí) as an adverb means all along or all the way.
希望 (xīwàng) is to hope or to expect.
(lù) is to record or to write down.
影片 (yǐngpiàn) is a movie or video clip.
闲空 (xiánkòng ) is spare time or leisure.
守株待兔 (shǒuzhūdàitù) describes a person standing by a tree stump to wait for hares to come and dash themselves against it. It means to wait for windfalls.
那天 (nǎtiān) means that day or a certain day.
蔬菜 (shūcài) are vegetables.
拍照 (pāizhào) is to take a picture.
忽然 (hūrán) means suddenly.
切换 (qiēhuàn) is to switch to a different mode.
录影 (lù yǐng) is to record a video.
模式 (móshì) is a mode or method.
竟然 (jìngrán) is an adverb that means unexpectedly.
吸允 (xī yǔn) is to suck up.
景象 (jǐngxiàng) is a scene or a sight.
喜出望外 (xǐchūwàngwài) is a common expression that means to be overjoyed or pleasantly surprised.
想必 (xiǎngbì) means “I think, most likely…”
如愿以偿 (rúyuànyǐcháng) is a common expression for having one’s wish fulfilled.

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Chinese idioms involving the chicken

Crowing Rooster

Crowing Rooster

Wake up! Wake up! The Year of the Rooster will soon be upon us!

My grandfather lived on the countryside in his retirement. When I was little, I sometimes stayed over at his place. Every morning, the neighboring farmer’s rooster would hoist himself on the roof of the chicken coop, stretch his neck out as far as it would go and let out a series of three-syllable “O-O-O” cries to wake everyone up, his face red from the excessive straining. To the Chinese, the rooster is far from being “chicken”. Rather, it is the symbol for diligence, dutifulness and righteousness. Naturally, a bit of cockiness goes with that as well.

(jī) refers to all chickens. 公鸡 (gōngjī male chicken) is a rooster and 母鸡 (mǔjī female chicken) is a hen. Little chicks are called 小鸡 (xiǎojī). Please note that 田鸡 (tiánjī) is not a field chicken, but a frog.

(tí) is to crow, to cry or to weep aloud.

早晨听到公鸡啼叫.
Zǎochén tīngdào gōngjī tí jiào.
In the morning I hear the rooster crowing.

晚上听见婴儿啼哭.
Wǎnshàng tīngjiàn yīng’ér tíkū.
In the evening I hear the baby crying.

When talking about the eyes of chicken, say 鸡的眼睛 (jī de yǎnjing) rather than 鸡眼 (jīyǎn) as the latter refers to a corn that could form on one’s feet.

It is interesting that the Chinese talk about chicken bumps, 鸡皮疙瘩 (jīpígēda), rather than goose bumps.

鸡毛 (jīmáo) is chicken feather, light and insignificant. Therefore 鸡毛蒜皮 (jīmáosuànpí chicken feathers and garlic skins) means trivial things.

In ancient China the army made use of an arrow-shaped token of authority. Whoever saw this 令箭 (lìngjiàn) must obey the order the carrier read from it. Now, if you don’t look closely, you might mistake a large rooster’s tail feather for that arrow-shaped token. Therefore the idiom 拿着鸡毛当令箭 (ná zhe jīmáodānglìngjiàn) is often used to describe a situation in which a person makes a big fuss about a superior’s casual remark and justifies actions that lead to undesirable results. This idiom also applies to a person who takes advantage of other people through false authority.

As the rooster’s tail is made up of multiple feathers of different colors, a mixed alcoholic drink is called 鸡尾酒 (jīwěijiǔ cocktail).

鸡蛋 (jīdàn) are chicken eggs, and we all know that eggshells are quite fragile, hence the idiom used in the following sentence.

这就像是鸡蛋碰石头.
Zhèjiù xiàng shì jīdànpèngshítóu.
This is like knocking an egg against a rock (no chance to prevail).

Normally eggs sold at the market would not come with bones. However, a nitpicking person might still pick an egg over and try to find a bit of bone in it. The action of intentionally trying to find trivial faults in others is referred to as 鸡蛋里面挑骨头 (jīdàn lǐmiàn tiǎo gútou).

(shǒu) is the classical word for the head or a leader.

When pronounced in the second tone, the word (wéi) means (shì to be). Would you rather be the leader of a small company than a minion in a large corporation? If so, the following saying reflects your mentality.

宁为鸡首, 不为牛后.
Níng wéi jī shǒu, bùwéiniúhòu.
I’d rather be the head of a rooster than the behind of an ox.

鸡犬不宁 (jīquǎnbùníng) describes general turmoil, in which even fowls and dogs are not at ease. This idiom can be used to describe wartime or a disturbed condition at home.

他们动辄吵架, 闹得家里鸡犬不宁.
Tāmen dòngzhé chǎojià, nào de jiā lǐ jīquǎnbùníng.
They quarrel frequently, upsetting the entire household.

As you can see from the above two sentences, the word (níng) can stand for.
宁愿 (nìngyuàn prefer, would rather) or 安宁 (ānníng peaceful, calm).

Chickens are not known for their physical strength. 手无缚鸡之力 (shǒuwúfùjīzhīlì lacking the strength to truss up a chicken) is an expression used for describing a weak person.

It follows that one should not need a hefty ox cleaver to butcher a chicken. If someone uses a sledge hammer to crack a nut, a bilingual person might laugh at him or her and say, “杀鸡用牛刀 (shājīyòngniúdāo). That’s an overkill.”

Last year we talked about 杀鸡儆猴 (shājījǐnghóu), which means to kill the chicken to frighten the monkey. This method of warning by example has often been employed in the political arena.

杀鸡取卵 (shājīqǔluǎn kill the hen to get the egg) is the equivalent of the western saying: “Kill the goose that lays the golden eggs.” Let’s not be shortsighted, but spare the poor hen.

And forget about stealing the chicken. The chicken might get away and you would have wasted the rice that you scattered on the ground to attract it. If you went for wool and came back shorn, people might say (with a smirk):

偷鸡不着蚀把米.
Ttōujībùzháoshībǎmǐ.
Failed to steal the chicken and lost the grains of rice.

A wooden chicken is stiff and unable to move. The Chinese use this term to describe a person who is stunned, dumbfounded or transfixed with fear or amazement.

他站在那儿, 呆若木鸡.
Tā zhàn zài nàr, dāiruòmùjī.
He stood there thunderstruck.

落汤鸡 (luòtānjī) means a drenched chicken, another chicken expression used for describing a person.

雨下得很大, 把他淋得像只落汤鸡.
Yǔ xià de hěndà, bǎ tā lín de xiàng zhī luòtānjī.
There was a downpour, and he was drenched through.

Please note that the unit to use when referring to most animals is (zhī), rather than (gè). Therefore, you would say 一只鸡 (yī zhī jī) and not 一个鸡 (yīgè jī). For a discussion of the commonly used units of measure in Chinese, please see Chapter 6 of “Learn Chinese through Songs and Rhymes”.

As you may have found out, many of the four-character Chinese idioms are based on legends, anecdotes or historical events and personages. Therefore one should be careful not to take them at face value. For example, 聞雞起舞 (wén jī qǐ wǔ) does not mean “Smell the aroma of the fried chicken, get up and dance with joy.” Here, means to hear, and stands for 舞劍 (wǔ jiàn), i.e. practicing martial art using a sword. The idiom 聞雞起舞 (wén jī qǐ wǔ) is based on an anecdote about a famous general, 祖逖 (Zǔ tì), of the Jin Dynasty who rose at the crack of dawn each day to do physical exercises to strengthen his body. This general was a fine example of diligence in one’s studies and self-improvement. If you assume this attitude in studying Chinese or any other subject, you should see good progress in due time.

Are you ready to celebrate the Chinese lunar New Year? I think the lively song at this link will help get you in the mood.

If you would like to play this tune on your piano keyboard, here is a simple music sheet for Gong Xi Gong Xi I put together using MuseScore: gong_xi_gong_xi

恭贺新禧!
Gōnghèxīnxǐ!
Happy New Year!

Learn Chinese words for near and far

(jìn) means near or closeby. For example, 靠近 (qīnjìn)
means to be near or close to someone or some place. As a verb, it means to draw near someone or something. What would you say when you want your sweetheart to snuggle up to you? The answer can be found on page 223 of “Learn Chinese through Songs and Rhymes“.

亲近 (qīnjìn) means to be on intimate terms with someone. However, 近亲 (jìnqīn) are close relatives.

不近人情 (bùjìnrénqíng) is a Chinese idiom that describes someone as being unreasonable or insensitive to human feelings.

(jìn) is also used to indicate proximity in time. 近来 (jìnlái) means recently or lately. Do not confuse it with 进来 (jìnlái), which means to come in.

最近 (zuìjìn) can mean recently or in the near future.

近年来 (jìnniánlái) means for the past few years.

近代 (jìndài) means modern times, as opposed to 古代 (gǔdài ancient times).

近东 (jìndōng) is the Near East. (yuǎn) means distant or faraway. Therefore, 远东 (yuǎndōng) is the Far East.

远方 (yuǎnfāng) are distant places.

远来的和尚会念经.
Yuǎn lái de héshàng huì niànjīng.
Monks who come from afar know the scriptures better.

You may have heard the chant of Buddhist monks, or 和尚 (héshàng), at a temple. Reciting or chanting the Buddhist scriptures is called 念经 (niànjīng). Some rich Chinese people do not employ local monks to perform ceremonies for them but hire famous ones from afar, thus prompting this satyrical remark from the locals. You are bound to feel the same if, instead of promoting you to the new position, your company enlists an outside expert. Another way to put it is:

外国的月亮比较圆.
Wàiguó de yuèliang bǐjiào yuán.
The moon shines brighter in foreign countries.
(“The grass is greener on the other side.”)

永远 (yǒngyuǎn) means always or forever.

遥远 (yáoyuǎn) means distant or remote. Remember the song we discussed a couple years ago, 在那遥远的地方 (Zài Nà Yáoyuǎn de Dìfang)? If not, here is the link to that lesson on the soil radical.

远虑 (yuǎnlǜ) and 远见 (yuǎnjiàn) both mean foresight. The latter may also refer to a vision.

双筒望远镜 (shuāngtǒngwàngyuǎnjìng) are binoculars.

疏远 (shūyuǎn) is to become estranged.

后来他们两人就疏远了.
Hòulái tāmen liǎng rén jiù shūyuǎn le.
Later on the two of them drifted apart.

远近 (yuǎnjìn) means far and near.

远近的人都仰慕他.
Yuǎnjìn de rén dōu yǎngmù tā.
People from far and near all admire him.

We will conclude this lesson by offering two bits of Chinese wisdom.

远亲不如近邻.
Yuǎnqīn bùrú jìnlín.
Distant relatives are not as helpful as near neighbors.

不如 (bùrú) means not as good as. 近邻 (jìnlín) is a near neighbor.

人无远虑必有近忧.
Rén wú yuǎnlǜ bì yǒu jìn yōu.
If one does not think ahead, one may soon have problems on hand.

(wú) is the formal word for no, not or nothing.

人无远虑必有近忧.
Rén wú yuǎnlǜ bì yǒu jìn yōu.
If one does not think ahead, one may soon have problems on hand.

(wú) is the formal word for no, not or nothing.

(bì) is the formal for sure, certainly, or must. Colloquially, you would say 必定 (bìdìng) or 一定 (yīdìng).

(yōu), or 忧虑 (yōulǜ), are worries, sorrow or concerns.

In other words, when you see dark clouds overhead, take your umbrella along so you won’t get rained on. 🙂

Learn Chinese word radical – Rain

Snow 雪 (xuě)

Snow 雪 (xuě)

We have discussed the Chinese character for rain, (yǔ), a few times before. This character, featuring four drops of water, also serves as a word radical that is employed in words involving precipitation or moisture in the air. As you know, one advantage of being able to recognizing a word radical is that you will only need to learn the remaining part in a new word.

As with many other natural elements, the words containing the rain radical are often used in phrases associated with human nature.

We will start with a simple character, (xuě snow).

你会滑雪吗?
Nǐ huì huáxuě ma?
Do you know how to ski?

(xuě) is also used as a verb in the idiom 报仇雪耻 (bàochóuxuěchǐ), which means to take revenge and wipe out a humiliation.

(tàn) is charcoal. (sòng) means to give or to deliver. The idiom 雪中送炭 (xuězhōngsòngtàn providing charcoal in snowy weather) means to offer needed help and be “a friend indeed”.

(shuāng) is frost. 雪上加霜 (xuěshàngjiāshuāng), means to have frost added on top of snow, to have one disaster after another, or to add insult to injury.

(bīng) is ice. 冰雹 (bīngbáo) are hailstones. Some one who is really aloof might be described as being icy. The following comment is often bestowed on strikingly beautiful women who give their admirers the cold shoulder.

艳若桃李, 冷若冰霜.
Yàn ruò táo lǐ, lěng ruò bīng shuāng.
Gorgeous as peach and plum blossoms, but cold as ice and frost.

(léi) is thunder, which often strikes a field when it rains. 地雷 (dìléi) are land mines.

雷声大,雨点小. (léishēngdà,yǔdiǎnxiǎo) literally translates to “loud thunder but tiny raindrops”. This idiom implies that much is proclaimed but followed by little action.

暴跳如雷 (bàotiàorúléi) and 大发雷霆 (dàfāléitíng) both mean flying into a rage.

他听了这话, 暴跳如雷.
Tā tīng le zhè huà, bàotiàorúléi.
After hearing these words, he flew off the handle.

如雷贯耳 (rúléiguàněr) literally translates to “like thunder piercing the ears”, but this idiom is used for complimenting a person on his or her colossal reputation, implying that everyone is praising that person and the clamor fills the ear like thunder.

(lù) as a noun means dew. 雨露 (yǔlù rain and dew) often refers to grace and bounty.

(ní) is the secondary rainbow. What is the primary raindow called in Chinese?

We learned before that 晚霞 (wǎnxiá) is the evening glow at sunset.

(zhèn) means to shake or shock, or to be greatly shocked, as in 震惊 (zhènjīng). 地震 (dìzhèn) is an earthquake.

他听了这消息, 十分震惊.
Tā tīng le zhè xiāoxi, shífēn zhènjīng.
He was shocked to hear this piece of news.

(méi) is mildew. 发霉 (fāméi) is to become moldy.
倒霉 (dǎoméi), on the other hand, means to have bad luck.

今天又碰到他. 倒霉!
Jīntiān yòu pèng dào tā. Dǎoméi!
I ran into him again today. Just my luck!

The proper word for “tough luck” is 倒楣 (dǎoméi). However, 倒霉 (dǎoméi) has been so widely used that it has won legitimacy. Either way you write it, it’s not a happy word.

下雪天, 走路开车都要当心.
Xià xuě tiān, zǒulù kāichē dōu yào dāngxīn,
In snowy weather, walk and drive carefully.

For a short discussion of other weather conditions please see Chapter 22 of “Learn Chinese through Songs and Rhymes“.

The Monkey King in Chinese

Talking about (wù enlightenment) reminds me of a character in a major Chinese novel written during the Ming Dynasty. This book is titled “西游记 (Xīyóujì), often translated as “Journey to the West”. The general plot of this fantasy novel is not unlike that of “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz”, involving a journey on which the main character is aided by a number of other characters. However, “西游记 (Xīyóujì), 100 chapters long, features many more varied characters, mystical creatures, demons and seemingly endless episodes.

The principal character in “西游记 (Xīyóujì) is a monk, and the objective of his journey is to acquire sacred texts of Buddhism from 印度 (yìndù India). You can find a well written summary at this link.

Each of the main characters in the novel serves to illustrate a certain set of human characteristics. Let’s see if we can use some of the adjectives listed in Chapter 8 of “Learn Chinese through Songs and Rhymes” to describe the personalities of these characters.

The monk, 唐三藏 (Táng Sānzàng), is dedicated to his cause. He is idealistic and benevolent, but his defenselessness and impracticality are often taken advantage of by the team’s adversaries.

唐三藏心地善良, 但是无能.
Táng Sānzàng xīndì shànliáng, dànshì wúnéng.
Tang Sanzang is of a kindhearted nature, but incompetent.

The most capable and the most interesting of the monk’s three disciples is a mystical monkey born out of a rock. He becomes the Monkey King, 猴王 (hóu wáng), and receives training from a mentor, who gives him the name 悟空 (Wùkōng). As the word (sūn) also means monkeys, the author humorously assigned to this monkey the common Chinese surname (sūn grandson). At this link is a section of cartoon with helpful English subtitles that describes the early days in the life of the Monkey King. See if you can catch a few Chinese words here and there.

If you would like to see in animation how 孙悟空 (Sūn Wùkōng) meets up with the monk, you could watch the following two videos in English. (Video 1, Video 2) In these videos, Sun Wukong is referred to as Goku because this is how 悟空 (Wùkōng) is pronounced in Japanese

With a name like 悟空 (Wùkōng), which means being enlightened to the nothingness of life, Sun Wukong is, however, anything but. He has to get involved in any and everything, jumping at every opportunity to utilize his prowess to right the wrongs.

孙悟空聪明, 能干, 勇敢, 但是时常冲动.
Sūn Wùkōng cōngmíng, nénggàn, yǒnggǎn, dànshì shícháng chōngdòng.
Sun Wukong is clever, capable and brave, but often acts impulsively.

他是许多男孩儿心中的英雄.
Tā shì xǔduō nánháir xīn zhòng de yīngxióng.
He is the hero in the heart of many young boys.

One cannot help but chuckle when thinking about the second disciple who takes on the form of a hog. This 猪八戒 (Zhū Bājiè) represents many human faults – avarice, laziness and sensualism, which are counterbalanced by his amicable personality, straightforwardness and extraordinary physical strength.

猪八戒懒惰, 好吃, 但是强壮, 热情.
Zhū Bājiè lǎnduò, hàochī, dànshì qiángzhuàng, rèqíng.
Zhu Bajie is lazy and gluttonous, but strong and affectionate.

沙和尚 (Shā Héshàng) is kind of an average guy. He obeys the rules, does his duty with an even temper and takes a down-to-earth approach to solving problems. Being thus not an exciting character, he only gets a small part in the novel.

沙和尚正直, 忠实, 任劳任怨.
Shā Héshàng zhèngzhí, zhōngshí, rènláorènyuàn.
Friar Sand is upright, loyal, works hard and puts up with chiding and criticism.

The idiom, 任劳任怨 (rènláorènyuàn), could be translated as “being willing to put one’s nose to the grindstone”.

In reality, each one of us probably has some of the above-mentioned personality traits. Hopefully our strengths will compensate for our weaknesses and help us eventually achieve our individual goals.

Chinese idioms that follow the AABB pattern (3)

Don’t you just love these fun Chinese idioms? I know you can’t have enough of them. So, here are a few more descriptive phrases that you could learn and keep handy. Applied appropriately, these phrases will make you sound more authentic and less bookish.

迷迷糊糊 (mímíhūhū) means befuddled or being in a state of confusion.

我那时迷迷糊糊, 不知道自己说了什么.
Wǒ nàshí mímíhūhū, bù zhīdào zìjǐ shuō le shénme.
At that time I was in a daze and didn’t know what I was saying.

疯疯颠颠 (fēngfēngdiāndiān) is to behave like an insane person. This phrase is often used to describe a flighty or crazy behavior

别这样疯疯颠颠的.
Bié zhèyàng fēngfēngdiāndiān de.
Stop acting like a lunatic.

急急忙忙 (jíjímángmáng hurriedly) and 匆匆忙忙 (cōngcōngmángmáng hastily) are opposite to 慢慢腾腾 (mànmànténgténg unhurriedly).

他急急忙忙赶回家去.
Tā jíjímángmáng gǎnhuíjiā qù.
He hurried home.

慌慌张张 (huānghuāngzhāngzhāng) means being flustered and doing things chaotically or haphazardly.

他慌慌张张地穿上衣服.
Tā huānghuāngzhāngzhāng de chuān shàng yīfu.
He put on his clothes haphazardly.

密密麻麻 (mìmìmámá) means close and numerous; thickly dotted.

那张纸上印着密密麻麻的文字.
Nèi zhāng zhǐ shàng yìn zhe mìmìmámá de wénzì.
That sheet of paper was crammed with closely printed text.

地地道道 (dìdìdàodào) means authentic, genuine, or to the core.

这是地地道道的茅台酒.
Zhè shì dìdìdàodào de máotáijiǔ.
This is genuine Maotai (a famous Chinese liquor).

Many other four-character Chinese phrases are in popular use but have not attained the status of an official idiom. These are usually descriptive words that are uttered in the AABB pattern for emphasis. We could call them pseudo-idioms.

For example, 清楚 (qīngchǔ) means clear or clearly.

我已经清清楚楚地告诉了他.
Wǒ yǐjīng qīng qīng chǔ chǔ de gàosù le tā.
I’ve already told him plain and clear.

实在 (shízai) as an adverb means “truly”, such as in “He is truly careless.” As a description of a person or an item, it means being substantial, stable and solid.

他是个实实在在的人.
Tā shì gè shí shí zai zai de rén.
He is a down-to-earth person.

孤单 (gūdān) means lonely or alone.

他孤孤单单地住在那儿.
Tā gū gū dān dān de zhù zài nàr.
He lives there all by himself.

懒散 (lǎnsǎn) means sluggish or indolent.

他整天懒懒散散的.
Tā zhěngtiān lǎn lǎn sǎn sǎn de.
He dawdles the whole day.

弯曲 (wānqū) means zigzagged or curvy.

那条山路弯弯曲曲的.
Nèi tiáo shānlù wān wān qū qū de.
That mountain road meanders.

If you have a favorite Chinese idiom or pseudo-idiom in the AABB pattern, why not put it in a comment to share with everyone?

Chinese idioms that are easy to figure out (1)

Have you ever been pleasantly surprised by being able to figure out on your own the meaning of a Chinese idiom just by looking up the words it contains? There are many Chinese idioms that have obvious meanings.

Chapters 27 and 28 of “Learn Chinese through Songs and Rhymes” present a number of familiar Chinese expressions and idoms, one of which is 一石二鸟 (yī shí èr niǎo). “One stone, two birds.” Isn’t this the equivalent of “killing two birds with one stone”? Following are a few more examples of Chinese idioms that are straightforward to figure out.

三心二意 (sānxīnèryì) is to be of two minds or to be half-hearted. When trying to convince someone to accept an appointment or a marriage proposal, you could say:

不要再三心二意了.
Bùyào zài sānxīnèryì le.
Make up your mind and go for it.

We learned in the last lesson that (máng) means to be busy. The word (luàn) means to be chaotic or random. Therefore 手忙脚乱 (shǒumángjiǎoluàn) means to be in a frantic rush or to scrabble in a mess of ineffective actions (involving the hands and the feet).

客人提早来到, 弄得我们手忙脚乱.
Kèrén tízǎo láidào, nòng de wǒmén shǒumángjiǎoluàn.
The guests arrived early, sending us into a frantic rush (to get ready).

(qīng) is to incline, overturn or pour out. (pén) is a tub or a pot. Therefore, 倾盆大雨 (qīngpéndàyǔ) means a heavy downpour.

外面下着倾盆大雨.
Wàimian xià zhe qīngpéndàyǔ.
It’s pouring (or raining cats and dogs) out there.

A similar expression is 瓢泼大雨 (piáopōdàyǔ) which likens the torrential rain with water and splashed from a large ladle made from dried gourd.

心有余而力不足. (Xīnyǒuyúérlìbùzú.) means the spirit is more than willing, but the flesh is weak. It describes the the inability to accomplish what one desires to do, such as trying to help a friend get out of debt.

船到桥头自然直. (Chuán dào qiáotóu zìran zhí.) translates to “The boat will automatically straighten itself out when it gets to the bridge.” This is equivalent to the English saying, “We’ll cross the bridge when we get there.”

进退两难 (jìntuìliǎngnán) means being caught in a dilemma, such that it would be just as precarious to proceed as to back off.

这件事使我进退两难.
Zhèi jiàn shì shǐ wǒ jìntuìliǎngnán.
This matter puts me between a hard place and a rock.

心惊肉跳 (xīnjīngròutiào) describes how the heart is startled and the flesh jumps. In other words, one is fearful and filled with apprehension.

大海捞针 (dàhǎilāozhēn) is trying to scoop up a needle from the big ocean, ie. looking for a needle in a haystack.

小题大作 (xiǎotídàzuò) is to make a fuss over a petty concern; or to make a mountain out of a molehill.

我们不要小题大作.
Wǒmén bùyào xiǎotídàzuò.
Let’s not make a mountain out of a molehill.

说来话长 (shuōláihuàcháng) means it’s a long story. You would say this before spinning the whole nine yards.

九牛二虎之力 (fèi le jiǔ niú èr hǔ zhī lì) translates to “the strength of nine oxen and two tigers” In other words, a tremendous effort made to accomplish a task.

我们费了九牛二虎之力, 才把那棵树种好.
Wǒmén fèi le jiǔ niú èr hǔ zhī lì, cái bǎ nà kē shù zhòng hǎo.
It took a tremendous effort for us to plant that tree.

无家可归 (wújiākěguī) means without a home to go back to.

战后许多人无家可归.
Zhànhòu xǔduō rén wújiākěguī.
After the war, many people were left homeless.

天长地久 (tiānchángdìjiǔ) means lasting as long as heaven and earth. Following is one way to declare your ever-lasting love:

天长地久, 此情不渝.
Tiānchángdìjiǔ, cǐ qíng bù yú.
Until the end of time, this love will never change.

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