What will you be this Halloween, or 万圣节 (Wàn Shèng Jié)? A witch, 巫婆 (wūpó), a sorcerer, 巫师 (wūshī), or Dracula, 吸血鬼 (xīxuěguǐ vampire)? You may have thought that your macabre makeup and outfit would scare the wits out of everyone, until you come face-to-face with a ghastly apparition that makes you cringe. This is what the Chinese describe as 小巫见大巫 (xiǎowūjiàndàwū), or little sorcerer meets the great sorcerer. Figuratively, it means that one is dwarfed by another person who is much more capable and powerful.
鬼 (guǐ) and 鬼怪 (guǐguài) are general terms for ghosts, spirits, apparitions and devils. 鬼魂 (guǐhún) are spirits in the form of ghosts or apparitions.
A pair of ghosts, named 无常鬼 (wúcháng guǐ), are often featured as tall figures on stilts in some Chinese religious processions or ghost festivals. In keeping with yin and yang, folklore provides for a 黑无常 (hēi wúcháng) and a 白无常 . 黑无常 (hēi wúcháng) always brings disaster, while 白无常 (bái wúcháng), although also scary and feared, is believed to bring wealth sometimes. In any case, 无常 (wúcháng) means changeable and unpredictable. Understandably, it would be terrible to have to deal with someone or something that’s devoid of constancy and reliability.
鬼 (guǐ) also means terrible, damnable or tricky. In this sense, this character has many light-hearted applications.
鬼鬼祟祟 (guǐguǐsuìsuì) means being sneaky, and 搞鬼 (gǎoguǐ) is playing tricks.
Tāmen guǐguǐsuìsuì de zài gǎo shénme?
What (mischief) are they up to?
Nǐmen zài gǎo shénme guǐ?
What the hell are you doing?
有鬼 (yǒuguǐ) means “There’s something fishy.”
鬼话 (guǐhuà) is literally the devil’s talk. It is used to accuse the speaker of telling a lie.
鬼主意 (guǐzhǔyì) is a clever or wicked idea or scheme.
做鬼脸 (zuò guǐliǎn) means to make a grimace or a funny face.
Tā xiàng wǒ zuò le yī gè guǐliǎn.
He made a face at me.
死鬼 (sǐguǐ) is literally a “dead devil”. However, it just means “That wretch!” You’d be surprised how many housewives refer to their husbands by this term, in jest or in anger.
小鬼 (xiǎoguǐ) is a goblin or little devil. This is actually an endearing term people use to refer to young kids.
胆小鬼 (dǎnxiǎoguǐ) is a scaredy-cat.
酒鬼 (jiǔguǐ) is a drunkard or a person addicted to drinking.
活见鬼 (huójiànguǐ) is a phrase used to discount someone’s words as being preposterous or totally incredulous.
魂 (hún), or 灵魂 (línghún), is the soul or the spirit. When preceded by such a gloomy word as 幽 (yōu dim, secluded) or 阴 (yīn shaded, sinister), the spirit turns into a spectre, namely, 幽灵 (yōulíng) and 阴魂 (yīnhún). A requiem is called 安魂曲 (ānhúnqǔ).
Any word containing the character 魔 (mó) involves something demonic, mystical or magical. 魔鬼 (móguǐ), 恶魔 (èmó), 妖魔 (yāomó), 妖怪 (yāoguài) and 妖精 (yāojing) all refer to demons, evil spirits or monsters. Temptresses are often called 妖精 (yāojing). A tyrant or despot is sometimes referred to as a 魔王 (mówáng), or the top monster.
着魔 (zháomó) means to be possessed or bewitched.
Tā wèi zhēnnī zháomó.
He is enchanted by Jenny.
魔术 (móshù) is magic or a magician’s trick.
What to do with a host of demons and evil spirits surrounding us? Fear not. According to Chinese mythology, there is the King of all Demons, 钟馗 (Zhōngkuí), whom we may call on for help. Many traditional Chinese households and businesses have the image of this guardian spirit painted on their main gates. Others may put up a poster of his image during the New Year celebration.
In real life, there are fiends that we truly must fear, namely the hackers on the Internet. Kudos to whoever came up with the Chinese transliteration for hackers. 骇 (hài) means shocking or to be appalled. 客 (kè) is a visitor, a guest, or a person engaged in some particular pursuit. And voila! 骇客 (hài kè hacker).