Homonyms for the Chinese word for deer

Deer in the Woods

Deer in the Woods

Deer are not part of the Chinese zodiac. They are getting a mention here because the Chinese word for deer has a number of homonyms that I’d like to bring to your attention.

Deer in Chinese is 鹿 (lù). Sika deer, or 梅花鹿 (méihuālǜ), originated mostly from Japan, Taiwan and East Asia. They are mentioned in “The Little Monk“, a short novel that features Taiwan in the seventeenth century.

Giraffes are called 长颈鹿 (chángjǐnglù), or long-necked deer. 驼鹿 (tuólù) refers to moose or elks.

Literally, 逐鹿 (zhúlù) means to chase the deer. Figuratively, it means to bid for state power.

中原 (zhōngyuán) are the Central Plains in China that cover the middle and lower reaches of the Huanghe River. Many ancient Chinese dynasties established their government seats in this central area. The term 中原 (zhōngyuán) is also generally used to refer to the entire country of China. Therefore, 逐鹿中原 (zhúlùzhōngyuán) is to engage in a fight for the throne.

People competing for a high position or a coveted prize are likened to hunters going after the same deer. If you have no diea about who will most likely be the winner, you could say:

不知鹿死谁手.
Bùzhī lùsǐshuíshǒu.
Don’t know at whose hand the deer will die.

鹿皮 (lùpí) is deerskin.

There are many other words that are pronounced exactly the same as 鹿 (lù). We will look at a few common ones.

(lù) or 山麓 (shānlù) is the foot of a mountain.

(lù) or 道路 (dàolù) is a road, a path or a route. 高速公路 (gāosùgōnglù) is a freeway, and 地下铁路 (dìxiàtiělù) means subway. 路标 (lùbiāo) is a road sign, and 路灯 (lùdēng) are street lamps.

Crossroads are called 十字路口 (shízìlùkǒu). See how the Chinese numeral 10 looks like an intersection of two roads.

路面 (lùmiàn) is the road surface or pavement. 路边 (lùbiān roadside or curb) is usually used as an adverb,as in:

路边有许多摊贩.
There are many street vendors on the road side.
Lù biān yǒu xǔduō tānfàn.

迷路 (mílù) means to lose one’s way. When you lose your way, you will want to ask for directions, or 问路 (wènlù), and someone might be kind enough to show you the way, or 带路 (dàilù).

路程 (lùchéng) is the distance traveled or to be traveled on a journey.

走路 (zǒulù) means to go on foot. 路人 (lùrén) are passersby.

路人皆知 (lùrénjiēzhī) is an idiom that means everybody knows, referring to a well-known fact.

走投无路 (zǒutóuwúlù) means to have no way out or to be in an impasse.

When (lù) takes on a bird radical, it becomes (lù). 白鹭 (báilù) is a great white egret, and 苍鹭 (cānglù) is a gray heron.

(lù) or 陆地 (lùdì) means land, and 着陆 (zhuólù) is a verb that means to land. 大陆 (dàlù) means mainland or a continent. Eurasia is called 欧亚大陆 (Oūyàdàlù). 内陆 (nèilù) means inland or interior.

陆军 (lùjūn) is the ground force or army, and 海军陆战队 (hǎijūnlùzhànduì) are the marine corps.

陆续 (lùxù) means one after another.

旅客们陆续上了火车.
Lǚkèmen lùxù shàngle huǒchē.
The travelers got on the train one after another.

(lù) means to kill or slay, and 杀戮 (shālù) is a massacre.

(lù) and 贿赂 (huìlù) are bribes. 贿赂 (huìlù) can also be used as a verb.

正直的官员不会接受贿赂.
Zhèngzhí de guānyuán bù huì jiēshòu huìlù.
Upright officials will not accept bribes.

As a noun, (lù) means dew. It can also refer to a sweet drink distilled from flowers. 雨露 (yǔlù) is rain and dew. Figuratively, it connotes grace or a favour. On the other hand, 鱼露 (yúlù) is fish sauce. This is one example of why it is important to pay attention to the tone of the Chinese words you utter.

As a verb, (lù) means to reveal or to show. So, 露出 (lùchū) is to expose or to protrude from under a cover.

露面 (lùmiàn) means to show one’s face or to appear. In ancient China, women from good families were expected to stay at home and lead a private existence. Those who dared to show themselves unashamedly in public, or 抛头露面 (pāotóulùmiàn), were looked down upon

露一手 (lòuyīshǒu) is to show off one’s abilities or skills.

Literally, 露骨 (lùgǔ) means showing one’s bones. Figuratively, this expression describes a remark or action that is considered point-blank, explicit, or without polite disguise.

不露声色 (bùlùshēngsè) means to do things quietly and not show one’s feeling or intentions, like keeping a poker face.

原形 (yuánxíng) is the original shape or the true shape under the disguise. 原形毕露 (yuánxíng bìlù) is having the whole truth unmasked. In the same vein, 露出马脚 (lùchūmǎjiǎo) is to reveal the cloven foot or to give oneself away unintentionally.

透露 (tòulù) is to divulge, disclose or leak information.

If you see a friend taking a large wad of cash out of his wallet to count in the open, you could offer him this advice:

财不露白.
Cái bù lòubái
Don’t show your money in front of people.

露天 (lùtiān) means in the open air or outdoors. Therefore, an outdoor concert is called 露天演唱会 (lùtiān yǎnchàng huì).

露营 (lùyíng) is to camp out. When amping out, please be careful not to start a forest fire!

(lù) means to write down, to record or to register. 记录 (jìlù) is to record or take notes. A documentary film is called 纪录片 (jìlùpiàn).

录取 (lùqǔ) is to recruit, and 录用 (lùyòng) is to take on as an employee.

录音 (lùyīn) means sound recording. 录像机 (lùxiàngjī) is a video-recorder or camcorder. In Taiwan, it is called 录影机 (lùyǐng jī).

(lù) is also used as a noun that means a record or a collection of records. Memoirs are called 回忆录 (huíyìlù).

(lù) means busy or commonplace. 忙碌 (mánglù) is to bustle about, or to be busy with commonplace things.

劳碌 (láolù) to toil or work hard.

(lù) or 俸禄 (fènglù) refers to an official’s salary in ancient China. Therefore, it is an auspicious word. Therefore 福禄双全 (fúlùshuāngquán be happy and wealthy) is a popular wish to give to or to receive from an acquaintance.

中秋節快樂!
Zhōngqiū jié kuàilè!
Happy Mid-Autumn Festival!

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!

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