Learn Chinese word radical – Feather


Eagle Painting

The word 羽 (yǔ) consists of a pair of feathers showing the shafts and a couple of the barbs on the vanes. In everyday speech, feathers are called 羽毛 (yǔ máo).

Badminton is called 羽毛球 (yǔmáoqiú) because traditionally the shuttlecocks were made with real goose feathers. Badminton bats are called 羽毛球拍 (yǔmáoqiú pāi).

Nǐ dǎ yǔmáoqiú ma?
Do you play badminton?

To keep themselves healthy, birds will preen their feathers several times a day. To keep one’s reputation intact, a person would mind his conduct and dealings. This is referred to as 爱惜羽毛 (àixī yǔmáo).

他太爱惜羽毛, 因此做事过于谨慎.
Tā tài àixī yǔmáo, yīncǐ zuòshì guòyú jǐnshèn.
He cares too much about his reputation, so that he is too cautious in doing things.

Whereas the 羽 (yǔ) radical is shown completely in the Traditional Chinese word 習 (xí), the Simplified Chinese version of the word is reduced to just one feather, 习 (xí).

习 (xí) originally describes how birds fly back and forth repeatedly. The meaning has been extended to refer to repeating certain actions, as in practicing something or having a habit.

学习 (xuéxí) means to learn, and 见习 jiànxí means to train on the job. To study on your own is 自习 (zìxí), and 练习(liànxí) is to practice.

不管你学什么, 多多练习是很重要的.
Bùguǎn nǐ xué shénme, duōduō liànxí shì hěn zhòngyào de.
Regardless of what you study, it is important to practice a lot.

As a noun, 习惯 (xíguàn) is a habit. As a verb, it means to be accustomed to something. 坏习惯 (huài xíguàn) is a bad habit, and 恶习 (èxí) is a vice.

这里经常下雨, 我们已经习惯了.
Zhèlǐ jīngcháng xià yǔ, wǒmen yǐjīng xíguàn le.
It rains often here, and we are accustomed to it.

Here is another way to put it, using a four-character Chinese idiom:

这里经常下雨, 我们早就习以为常.
Zhèlǐ jīngcháng xià yǔ, wǒmen zǎo jiù xíyǐwéicháng.
It rains often here, and we’ve been accustomed to it since long ago.

The formal word for wings is 翼 (yì). In every day speech we call wings 翅膀 (chìbǎng). The 羽 (yǔ) radical features prominently in both words.

小心翼翼 (xiǎoxīnyìyì) means with great care, or cautiously.

不翼而飞 (bù yì ér fēi) is a commonly used Chinese idiom that means to disappear all of a sudden (taking off without wings).

如虎添翼 (rúhǔtiānyì) refers to redoubled power, like a tiger that has grown wings.

有了一百辆坦克车加入他强大的阵容, 这将是如虎添翼.
Yǒule yībǎi liàng tǎnkè chē jiārù tā qiángdà de zhènróng, zhè jiāng shì rúhǔtiānyì.
With a hundred tanks joining his powerful battle array, this will be like a tiger with wings.

Following are a few more commonly used words that include the 羽 (yǔ) radical.

翔 (xiáng) is to circle in the air. This word is made up of the character for goats and a pair of feathers. 飞翔 (fēixiáng) is to fly and 滑翔 (huáxiáng) is to glide in the air. The glider aircraft is called a 滑翔机 (huáxiángjī).

Hǎojiǔ méi kàn dào huáxiángjīle.
I haven’t seen a glider for a long time.

扇子 (shànzi) are handheld fans, while 电风扇 (diàn fēngshàn) or 电扇 (diànshàn) are electric fans. Fans made with real feathers are called 羽毛扇 (yǔmáo shàn).

煽动 (shāndòng) is to incite. Notice how the word 煽 (shān) also takes on the fire radical.

翁 (wēng) and 老翁 (lǎowēng) refer to men or old men. A millionair is called a 百万富翁 (bǎi wàn fùwēng).

When speaking of someone with an ulterior motive, you could say,

Zuì wēng zhī yì bùzài jiǔ.
The old tippler’s heart is not in the cup.

蹋 (tà) is to stamp one’s foot or to step on something. 糟蹋 (zāotà) is to spoil, waste, wreck something, or to abuse someone.

把碗里的食物吃完, 不要糟蹋东西.
Bǎ wǎn lǐ de shíwù chī wán; bùyào zāotà dōngxi.
Finish eating the food in the bowl; don’t waste things.

With the “soil” radical on the left side, 塌 (tà) means to collapse. Therefore, 倒塌 (dǎotā) means to collapse or to topple down. 一塌糊涂 (yītāhútú) means a whole mess, and 死心塌地 (sǐxīntādì) means to have one’s heart set on or to be hell-bent on doing something.

分开了50年, 她依然死心塌地的爱着他.
Fēnkāi le wǔshí nián, tā yīrán sǐxīntādì de àizhe tā.
After 50 years of separation, she still loves him with all her heart.

摺 (zhé) is to fold. 摺紙 (zhézhǐ) means folding paper, or origami.

寥 (liáo) means few. 寥寥无几 (liáoliáo wújǐ) is an idiom that means very few.

翡翠 (fěicuì) is jade. 翠绿 (cuìlǜ) is emerald green.

翻 (fān) means to turn over. 翻滚 (fāngǔn) is to tumble. 翻车 (fānchē) refers to the rollover of a vehicle.
天翻地覆 (tiānfāndìfù) is an idiom describing total confusion and chaos, or being topsy-turvy.

翻脸 (fānliǎn) or 闹翻 (nào fān) means to have a fall out with someone and no longer be friendly with that person.

Tāmen wèile zhēngduó nǚyǒu ér nào fān le.
They fell out fighting over the same girlfriend.

翻译 (fānyì) means to translate from one language to another.

推翻 (tuīfān) means to overthrow or to overturn.

翻山越岭 (fān shānyuè lǐng) is a Chinese idiom describing an arduous journey climbing over many mountains.

廖 (liào) is a Chinese surname. This word is the answer to an interesting riddle you can find in Chapter 24 of “Learn Chinese through Songs and Rhymes“.

Happy Moon Festival!

Sing Oh, Shenandoah in Chinese

Today we will sing a traditional American folk song in Chinese. Below, on the right side, you will find one version of the lyrics to this song. On the left side is my translation notated with pinyin.

噢, 泄南多啊! Oh Shenandoah,
Ō, xiè nán duō a!
我多想念你. I long to hear you.
Wǒ duō xiǎngniàn nǐ.
再会! 涛涛的大河! Away! You rolling river!
Zàihuì! Tāo tāo de dà hé!
噢, 泄南多啊! Oh Shenandoah,
Ō, xiè nán duō a!
我多想见你. I long to see you.
Wǒ duō xiǎngjiàn nǐ.
再会!来日再会! Away, I’m bound away
Zàihuì! Lái rì zàihuì!
遥念于密苏里. ‘Cross the wide Missouri.
Yáo niàn yú Mìsūlǐ.

噢, 泄南多啊! Oh Shenandoah,
Ō, xiè nán duō a!
我多么爱她. I love your daughter.
Wǒ duōme ài tā.
再会! 涛涛的大河! Away! You rolling river!
Zàihuì! Tāo tāo de dà hé!
我会带她 I’ll take her ‘cross
Wǒ huì dài tā
平安地回家. Your rollin’ water.
Píng’ān dì huí jiā.
再会!来日再会! Away, I’m bound away
Zàihuì! Lái rì zàihuì!
遥念于密苏里. ‘Cross the wide Missouri.
Yáo niàn yú Mìsūlǐ.

这七年多, ‘Tis seven years,
Zhè qī nián duō,
我四处漂泊. I’ve been a rover,
Wǒ sìchù piāobó.
再会! 涛涛的大河! Away! You rolling river!
Zàihuì! Tāo tāo de dà hé!
等我回来, When I return,
Děng wǒ huílái,
当履行承诺. I’ll be your lover.
Dāng lǚ xíng chéngnuò.
再会!来日再会! Away, I’m bound away
Zàihuì! Lái rì zàihuì!
遥念于密苏里. ‘Cross the wide Missouri.
Yáo niàn yú Mìsūlǐ.

噢, 泄南多啊! Oh Shenandoah,
Ō, xiè nán duō a!
我必须离去. I’m bound to leave you.
Wǒ bìxū lí qù.
再会! 涛涛的大河! Away! You rolling river!
Zàihuì! Tāo tāo de dà hé!
噢, 泄南多啊! Oh Shenandoah,
Ō, xiè nán duō a!
我不会负义. I’ll not deceive you.
Wǒ bù huì fù yì.
再会!来日再会! Away, I’m bound away
Zàihuì! Lái rì zàihuì!
遥念于密苏里. ‘Cross the wide Missouri.
Yáo niàn yú Mìsūlǐ.

河 ( hé ) is a river. A small stream or brook would be called 溪 (xī). 涛涛 (tāo tāo) describes the rolling waves.
想念 (xiǎngniàn) means to miss someone. 遥远 (yáoyuǎn) means faraway. Therefore, 遥念 (yáo niàn) means to miss someone from afar.
再会 (zàihuì) and 再见(zàijiàn) are interchangeable. Both mean “See you again.”.
来日 (lái rì) means someday in the future. The Chinese idiom 来日方长 (Láirìfāngcháng) means there will be another day for that.
平安地 (píng’ān di) means safely.
回家 (huí jiā) means to go home or come hom.
四处漂泊 (sìchù piāobó) is to wonder around.
履行承诺 (lǚ xíng chéngnuò) is to fulfill one’s promise.

The Chinese idiom 忘恩负义 (wàng’ēnfùyì) is used for accusing someone of being ungrateful and turning one’s back in return.

Qīyuè sìrì kuàilè!
Happy July 4th!

Sing “Die Gedanken Sind Frei” in Chinese

Canada Geese Formation

The other day an old song popped into my mind, and I was able to recall two stanzas of the verses. Those I have translated into Chinese, and I am pleased to share them here with you. This German folk song is called “Die Gedanken Sind Frei”, which means “Thoughts are free”. The powerful lines in this song remind me of “Invictus”, a poem written by the British poet William Earnest Henley.

You can find the complete lyrics in German and English at:

To hear Peter Seeger’s version, you can click on this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dbwQXVcbkU0

To download the piano sheet music for this song, click on the “Music Sheets” tab at the top.

Sīxiǎng zìyóuzìzài.
One’s thoughts are truly free.

Yǒu shéi néng jiàng tā cāi tòu?
Who is able to guess them?

Tā suíyì qù lái,
They come and go at will,

xiàng lüè yǐng sìchù yóu zǒu.
Like fleeting, roaming shadows.

Biérén wúcóng zhuōmō;
Others cannot fathom them;

lièrén wúfǎbǔhuò.
Hunters cannot capture them.

我们大家都明白 –
Wǒmén dàjiā dōu míngbai –
It’s obvious to all of us –

Sīxiǎng zìyóuzìzài!
One’s thoughts are truly free!

Zòngrán jiāng wǒ qiūjìn
Should someone lock me up

zài yīn’àn de dìjiào lǐ,
in a sinister dungeon,

nà shì báifèi xīnjī
That would be wasteful scheming,

多此一举, 毫无意义.
duōcǐyījǔ háowú yìyì
Unnecessary and without meaning.

Wǒ de sīxiǎng huì cuīhuǐ
My thoughts will destroy

铜墙铁壁, 冲出重围.
tóngqiángtiěbì, chōng chū chóngwéi
The bastion and the close siege,

bǎ xié’è dǎbài
And defeat the evil.

Sīxiǎng zìyóuzìzài!
One’s thoughts are truly free!

As you may have noticed, I have included many four-character Chinese idioms and expressions in the above lines. There are many advantages of using four-character Chinese idioms, espcially in poems and lyrics. They are concise word nuggets that pack a powerful punch in them. Some idioms make a long story short, and many will elicit a knowing knod or smile from the audience.

自由自在 (zìyóuzìzài) means being unrestrained and carefree.

四处游走 (sìchù yóu zǒu) is to wander all about.

无从捉摸 (wúcóng zhuōmō) means no way to fathom or ascertain.

白费心机 (báifèi xīnjī) is to bother one’s head for nothing; in other words, to scheme in vain.

多此一举 (duōcǐyījǔ) means to make take an unnecessary action.

毫无意义 (háowú yìyì) means totally meaningless.

铜墙铁壁 (tóngqiángtiěbì) are copper and iron walls. They represent an unassailable fortress.

冲出重围 (chōng chū chóngwéi) is to fight one’s way out.

Please also review Chapter 28 of “Learn Chinese through Songs and Rhymes” – Chinese Idioms.

Here’s wishing you

Shèngdàn kuàilè!
Merry Christmas!

Xīnnián kuàilè!
Happy New Year!

How to say “I don’t know” in Chinese

Zài Táiwān jiǔyuè èr shí bā rì shì jiàoshī jié
In Taiwan September 28th is designated as Teacher’s Day.

The reason is that this day is believed to be the birthday of Confucius, who is highly regarded by the Chinese people as a great educator and philosopher.

One day, after delivering a lesson to one of his students, Confucius asked the student if the latter understood the instruction material. Then Confucius added (in classical Chinese, of course):

知之为知之, 不知为不知, 是知也.
Zhī wèi zhī zhī, bùzhī wèi bùzhī, shì zhī yě.
Know what you understand, and know what you don’t understand. This reflects true knowledge.

(zhī), or 知道 (zhīdào), means to know, to realize or to perceive.

知识 (zhīshí) is knowledge.

知识分子 (zhīshífènzǐ) are intellectuals.

知识产权 (zhīshichǎnquán) is intellectual property rights.

无知 (wúzhī) means ignorant or badly informed (uneducated). This is different from 不知 (bùzhī) or 不知道 (bù zhīdào), which means not to know or not to be aware of something.

Many of us tend to think what little we know is the absolute and whole truth. In fact the sea of knowledge is deep and wide. It behooves us to know that there is a limit to a person’s knowledge and understanding. Then we are more apt to keep an open mind and to try to appreciate other people’s point of view.

通知 (tōngzhī) means to notify. As a noun it means a notice.

获知 (huòzhī) and 得知 (dézhī) is to have received information on something.

Wǒ jiànjiē dézhī tā yǐjīng líkāi Měiguó.
I learned indirectly that he had already left the United States.

不得而知 (bùdéérzhī) means unable to find out about something.

至于他什么时候回来, 就不得而知了.
Zhìyú tā shénme shíhòu huílái, jiù bùdéérzhī le.
As for when he will return, I have no idea.

无所不知 (wúsuǒbùzhī) describes a person who is knowledgeable and seems to know everything.

On the other hand, 一知半解 (yīzhībànjiě) is to have half-baked knowledge about something.

知其一, 不知其二 (zhīqíyī, bùzhīqíèr) means to know only one aspect of a matter and not the whole story.

略知一二 (lüèzhīyīèr) means knowing a bit or two about something.

You can probably guess what 一问三不知 (yīwènsānbùzhī) means. If one says “I don’t know” to every question asked, then he or she probably knows nothing about the subject matter.

一无所知 (yīwúsuǒzhī) is to be utterly ignorant about someone or something.

对于这位知名人士, 我一无所知.
Duìyú zhèi wèi zhīmíngrénshì, wǒ yīwúsuǒzhī.
I know nothing about this celebrity.

Following are a few commonly used four-character Chinese idioms involving 不知 (bù zhī).

不知所云 (bùzhīsuǒyún) translates to “Don’t know what he/she is talking about.” In everyday speech, you would say:

Bù zhīdào tā zài shuō shénme.

不知好歹 (bùzhīhǎodǎi) means not knowing what is good for one. You know that (hǎo) means good. (dǎi) means bad or evil. A scoundrel or ruffian can be referred to as 歹徒 (dǎitú scoundrel) or 坏人 (huàirén bad person).

不知所措 (bùzhīsuǒcuò) is to be at one’s wit’s end and not knowing what to do.

她不停地哭, 弄得我不知所措
Tā bùtíng de kū, nòng de wǒ bùzhīsuǒcuò.
She cried incessantly, causing me to be at a loss as to what to do.

All right. How many Chinese words do you have under your belt now? Do you know all of the characters grouped into phrases at this link?

Some Chinese expressions involving the moon

上弦月 shàngxián yuè First-quarter Moon

上弦月 (shàngxián yuè) First-quarter Moon

It is a Chinese tradition for family to gather together and enjoy the harvest of the year when the moon is at its fullest in the middle of autumn. After a scrumptious feast, it is customary for the party to move outdoors to observe the bright moon, chat, drink some tea and eat 月饼 (yuèbǐng moon cakes).

The moon is commonly referred to as 月亮 (yuèliang). In astronomical science, it is called 月球 (yuèqiú). In literature, one might speak of 月宫 (yuègōng), the palace on the moon where the moon fairly lives. In a moon-lit night, or 月夜 (yuèyè), you will likely see a half-moon shape, 半月形 (bànyuèxíng), or a crescent moon, 月牙 (yuèyá). A lunar eclipse is called 月蚀 (yuèshí).

The word (yuè) also represents the time period of one month. 正月 (zhēngyuè) is the first month of the lunar year. The Moon Festival takes place on the 15th day of the eighth month of the lunar year, i.e. 八月十五 (bāyuè shíwǔ).

岁月 (suìyuè) means years. 经年累月 (jīngniánlěiyuè) means year in year out.

他经年累月努力学习, 终于学会了中文.
Tā jīngniánlěiyuè nǔlì xuéxí, zhōngyú xuéhuì le zhōngwén.
After years of endeavoring in the study, he finally mastered the Chinese language.

蜜月 (mìyuè) is a honeymoon.

Tāmen yào qù nǎr dù mìyuè?
Where are they going for their honeymoon?

The word 满月 (mǎnyuè) can refer to a full moon, or it can refer to a baby’s completion of its first month of life, which calls for a joyous celebration. After giving birth to a baby, a woman in the traditional Chinese society would be confined at home for the entire first month and eat nutritious foods and drink herbal soups so as to recuperate quickly and produce ample milk for the newborn. This is called 坐月子 (zuòyuèzi).

When you see (yuè) in front of another word, it often refers to a monthly occurrence. Following are a few examples:

月历 (yuèlì) is a montly calendar.
月刊 (yuèkān) is a monthly magazine.
月票 (yuèpiào) is a monthly ticket.
月息 (yuéxī) is the monthly interest.
月薪 (yuèxīn) is the monthly salary.

Have you ever heard of 月下老人 (yuèxiàlǎorén)? An ancient Chinese story goes like this: One night, a traveling young man happened on an old man who was reading a book under the moonlight. Out of curiosity the young man ask the old what the book was about. The old man replied, “This is the book of marriages. See that woman who is peddling vegetables over there? Her daughter is only three now. In fourteen years, that girl will become your wife.” The young man did not take to the homeliness of that little girl. He paid a local to stab her to death. Fourteen years later, the young man got married. As was the custom at that time, one would see his bride for the first time on the wedding night. When the young man lifted the veil that covered the face of his bride, he saw a scar on her eyebrow. It turned out that girl was the same one he had previously attempted to get rid of. 月下老人 (yuèxiàlǎorén), the old man under the moon, is believed to be the god who unites persons in marriage. Consequently this term is often used to refer to a matchmaker. Chapter 10 of “Learn Chinese through Songs and Rhymes” discusses the song “Lift Your Veil”, which you can learn to sing by following the demo in the associated audio file.

累积 (lěijī) means to accumulate. 日积月累 (rìjīyuèlěi) means accumulated over a long period of time.

(xīn) means new. (yì) is the classical Chinese word for being different. Therefore 日新月异 (rìxīnyuèyì) means changing with each passing day (and month).

The phrase 风花雪月 (fēnghuāxuěyuè) contains the Chinese words for wind, flowers, snow and moon, which was the subject matter of certain types of feudal literature. Nowadays this idiom refers to shallow sentimental writing that is devoid of content. It is also used to describe decadence and indulgence in wine and women.

海底捞月 (hǎidǐlāoyuè) means to attempt to scoop up the moon from the bottom of the sea, i.e. striving in vain for the impossible or the illusory.

Zhè xiàng shì hǎidǐlāoyuè.
This is a hopeless illusion.

When people gather for the Moon Festival, some may play the game of mahjong, which involves completing a winning hand of tiles by forming sets of three tiles (melds). You could form a meld using a tile that you picked up or by using a tile discarded by another player. In the rare instance where no one has won when the tiles almost run out and you pick up the last available tile to complete a winning hand, you are said to have accomplished 海底捞月 (hǎidǐlāoyuè).

Zhōngqiūjié kuàilè!
Happy Moon Festival!

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