Father knows best?

So, we know that 妈妈 (māma) means “mama”. The word corresponding to “papa” is 爸爸 (bàba).
The formal words for mother and father are 母亲 (mǔqin) and 父亲 (fùqin), respectively, where (qīn) stands for kin, relative, being dear to someone, or intimacy. The word (mǔ) shows plainly the bosom of a nurturing parent. When you place this word in front of the name of any animal, it turns that animal into a female entity. So, (niú) is an ox, while 母牛 (mǔniú) is a cow.

Please remember that (mǔ) has a mammalian connotation. Never refer to a woman as a 母人 (mǔrén). The correct word is 女人 (nǚrén). By the same token, (ér) and 儿子 (érzi) refer to a son, while 女儿 (nǚér) is a daughter.

孩子 (háizi) means a child or children. (xiǎo) means little. The little children are often referred to as 小孩子 (xiǎoháizi) or 小孩儿 (xiǎoháir). Babies are 婴儿 (yīngér baby). These little bundles of joy are often called 宝宝 (bǎobǎo), which translates to “treasure”, or “sweetling”.

On the “Story Time” page of this blog, there is a link to the “My Little Sweetling” video on YouTube. How many words do you recognize in the subtitles of this video?

爷爷 (yéye grandpa) is the informal way of addressing one’s paternal grandfather. 奶奶 (nǎinai grandma) is the informal way of addressing one’s paternal grandmother. Notice the radical (nǚ) in the word for grandma? The word (nǎi) actually means breasts or milk.

As with many other cultures, the father is the figure of authority in a Chinese family. As recent as one complete Chinese zodiac cycle (60 years) ago, there was a clear division of labor in most Chinese families. The father was the breadwinner and deals with the outside world, while the mother handled “internal affairs” like cooking, cleaning and watching the children. As such, the common women had no social position to speak of. In the patriarchal society of China, the children take on the surname of the father. Therefore, the sons were regarded as truly belonging to the family, while the daughters were expected to leave and serve some other family when they grew up. This is why most expecting parents wished for sons rather than daughters.

If you get a chance to watch the Chinese movie “King of Masks”, a Shaw Brothers production, you will see the prejudice against girls clearly portrayed; and the word 爷爷 (yéye grandpa) will probably ring in your ears for quite a few days afterwards.

Mother, a female horse?

If you’ve been following my blog, then you’ve had several encounters with the word (hǎo). On the left side of this character is the character (nǚ) , which means “female”. On the right side is the character (zi) , which means a seed, an offspring, a small thing, or a person. Naturally, a female person connotes goodness. (hǎo) is the Chinese word for “good” or “well”. So, 好吃! (Hǎo chī!) means good for eating, or delicious; 您好 (nín hǎo) means “Wishing you well” or “Good day!”; and 新年好(xīnnián hǎo) means “Wishing you well in the new year”. So, what does 好人 (hǎo rén) mean? That’s right! A good person.

Now, put the characters for female and horse together:

(nǚ) + (mǎ) = (mā)

The new word means “mother”. Kind of makes sense, doesn’t it? Some people say, (mā), others say, 妈妈 (māma) – not unlike the English word, “mama”.

You know that (nĭ) means “you”. Replace the left side of this character with (nǚ female), and you’d get the word for a “female you”, (nĭ). It’s all right if you just use (nĭ) across the board and never bother with making the distinction between a male and a female “you”, as (nĭ) is a modern term, without which the Chinese have been doing just fine for ages. Ditto for the Chinese characters for he and she. By the way,  (nín) is the polite form of “you”. It applies to both genders.

(nǚ) is one of many so-called “radicals” of the Chinese characters. Each radical is shared by a group of characters, and provides a hint to a common characteristic of the words represented by those characters. Look in your Chinese text book or dictionary for additional examples of words containing the radical (nǚ). All of them have something to do with the female gender (for example, she, sisters, aunts, etc.). I hope you will pick out a few simple ones and learn them by heart.

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