Year of the Ox and Chinese words and idioms associated with the ox

Miss Cow

Yes, Miss Cow!

In Taiwan, many names of places and people are Romanized using the Wade–Giles system, which spells the G sound as K. Therefore, (Gāo), the last name of one of my classmates at an English-speaking girls high school is spelled as Kao. As our science teacher chose to address us by our last names, each time he called upon my friend to answer a question, all we heard was: “Miss Cow, Miss Cow!”

The Chinese generally respect oxen and cows as loyal and hard working beast of burdern. Many from the older generations refuse to eat beef for this reason. On the other hand, just like in western culture, oxen and cows are not considered intelligent animals. The Chinse word for “dumb ox” is 笨牛 (bèn niú). In the movie “The Butterfly Lovers”, when it finally dawned on the main male character that the “pal” he adored had been dropping hint after hint that she was actually a young lady disguised as a young man, he slapped his own forehead and exclaimed,

我是個大笨牛, 大笨牛!
Wǒ shì ge dà bèn niú, ge dà bèn niú!
I’m such a big fool, such a big fool!

Soon it will be 牛年 (niúnián), or Year of the Ox. Per the Chinese zodiac, people born in the Year of the Ox tend to be strong, diligent, reliable, faithful and patient. However, they can also be opinionated and stubborn, as indicated by the expression 牛脾气 (niúpíqi) representing bullheadedness, stubborn temperament or obstinacy.

(niú) is a word radical that appears in many Chinese words, such as (wù thing, matter, substance) or (mù to tend to a herd.) Can you find a few other words that take on this radical?

公牛 (gōngniú) is a bull or an ox. 母牛 (mǔniú) is a cow. 乳牛 (rǔniú) is a dairy cow. 水牛 (shuǐniú) is a water buffalo.

黄牛 (huángniú) is a yellowish brown ox usually employed in pulling carts. This word has a couple special connotations. As a noun, it could refer to a ticket scalper. In Taiwan, it can be used as a verb that means to fail to keep one’s word or to fail to show up.

好的, 你明天来接我; 不可以黄牛喔!
Hǎode, nǐ míngtiān lái jiē wǒ; bù kěyǐ huángniú ō!
All right, come tomorrow to pick me up; don’t weasel out!

犀牛 (xīniú) is a rhinoceros, and a tractor is referred to as 铁牛 (tiěniú iron ox).

蜗牛 (wōniú) is a snail. Do you think the head of a snail resemble that of an ox?

牛肉 (niúròu) is a general term for beef. 牛排 (niúpái) is a beefsteak, while 牛尾汤 (niúwěitāng) is an oxtail soup.

牛奶 (niúnǎi) is milk, and 酸牛奶 (suānniúnǎi) is yogurt or sour milk. Those of you with a sweet tooth should be interested to know that toffees are called 牛奶糖 (niúnǎitáng). (rǔ) is a more formal word for milk; it also refers to breasts. So, 牛乳 (niúrǔ) is cow milk, while 乳房 (rǔfáng) are breasts, and 乳癌 (rǔ ái) is breast cancer.

Butter is called 奶油 (nǎiyóu) in Taiwan, 牛油 (niúyóu) in Hong Kong, and 黃油 (huángyóu) in China. So, in Taiwan, cream is 鲜奶油 (xiǎn nǎiyóu), while elsewhere it is simply referred to as 奶油 (nǎiyóu). When working with a recipe in Chinese that includes butter or cream, make sure you know what is actually called for.

牛顿 (niúdùn) is the transliteration of the name of the physicist Sir Isaac Newton.

牛郎 (niúláng) the cowherd in the well-known legend “the Cowherd and the Weaver Girl”.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Cowherd_and_the_Weaver_Girl

牛仔 (niúzǎi) is a cowboy, and jeans are called 牛仔裤 (niúzǎikù).

牛痘 (niúdòu) refers to cowpox or small pox.

吹牛 (chuīniú) means to boast, brag, or talk big.

我哥哥最爱吹牛.
Wǒ gēgē zuì ài chuīniú.
My elder brother loves to brag.

牛饮 (niúyǐn) means to swig or to drink like a fish.

牛角尖 (niújiǎojiàn) is the tip of a ox horn. 钻牛角尖 (zuānniújiǎojiān) means to continue headstrong into a blind alley, or to split hairs to study an insignificant or insoluble problem.

我姐姐爱钻牛角尖.
Wǒ jiějie ài zuānniújiǎojiān.
My elder sister loves to split hairs on unimportant details.

牛马 (niúmǎ) are oxen and horses, i.e. beasts of burden. 做牛做马 (zuò niú zuò mǎ) means to toil like a slave.

父母甘心为子女做牛做马.
Fùmǔ gānxīn wèi zǐnǚ zuò niú zuò mǎ.
Parents are willing to toil for the sake of their children.

风马牛不相及 (fēngmǎniúbùxiāngjí) means having absolutely nothing to do with each other, such as two totally unrelated subject matters.

牛头不对马嘴 (niútóubùduìmǎzuǐ) translates to “The cow’s head does not match the horses’ mouth.” This expression is used to comment on an irrelevant answer received for a question asked.

杀鸡用牛刀 (shājīyòngniúdāo) means using an ox-cleaver to kill a chicken, i.e. breaking a butterfly on the wheel.

对牛弹琴 (duìniútánqín) literally means to play the lute to a cow. This idiom describes the situation in which one has choosen the wrong audience.

同他谈论艺术就像对牛弹琴.
Tóng tā tánlùn yìshù jiù xiàng duìniútánqín.
Discussing fine art with him is like casting pearls before a swine.

Given a choice, would you rather be the head of a small business or a peon in a large corporation?

宁为鸡首, 不为牛后.
Níng wèi jī shǒu, bù wéi niú hòu.
I would rather be the head of the chicken than the tail of a cow.
(I would rather be the leader of a small organization than a follower in a big organization.)

As you may already know, most Chinese refer to the Chinese Lunar New Year as 春节 (chūnjié), which translates to Spring Festival. However, it has nothing to do with the spring break observed at universities and schools. In Chinese, the spring vacation is called 春假 (chūnjià).

春节快乐!
Chūnjié kuàilè!
Happy Chinese Lunar New Year!

Chinese idioms involving the hog

Year of the Hog

Year of the Hog

Soon we will be welcoming the Year of the Hog, or 猪年 (zhū nián). As sounds the same as , a popular greeting for this particular year is:

诸事如意.
Zhūshìrúyì.
Everything will be as you wish.

The greeting on the displayed card is:
诸事大吉
Zhūshì dàjí
Everything will be very auspicious.

A sow is called 母猪 (mǔzhū), and a hog is called 公猪 (gōngzhū). If you know that 公主 (gōngzhǔ) is a princess, you will definitely understand why it is important to speak Chinese using the correct intonation. The wild boar is called 野豬 (yězhū).

In the popular children’s story “Three Little Pigs”, or 三只小猪 (Sān zhī xiǎo zhū), two of the pigs are dumb and lazy, while the youngest one is intelligent and hardworking. In the Chinese novel “Journey to the West”, or 西游记 (Xīyóujì), the monk’s second disciple 猪八戒 (Zhū Bājiè) is also depicted with faults and strengths, albeit more of the former traits than the latter. In Episode 23 of the Journey to the West by Little Fox, you can see how 猪八戒 (Zhū Bājiè) was fooled into carrying all the luggage for the journeying party, how he shirked the work and wanted to eat all the time.

Generally speaking, most Chinese consider pigs 肮脏 (āngzāng filthy), 愚蠢 (yúchǔn stupid), 贪吃 (tān chī gluttonous) and 鲁莽 (lǔmǎng crude and rash). This is clearly reflected in many idioms involving the pig.

猪朋狗友 zhū péng gǒ yǒ
Fair-weather friends

猪羊变色 zhū yáng biànsè
The pigs and the sheep have discolored.
(The situation has changed completely.)

猪狗不如 zhū gǒ bùrú
Worse than pigs and dogs.

豕突狼奔 shǐ tū láng bēn
Pigs dash forward and wolves flee.
(A scene of hasty retreat of defeated troops.)

 (shǐ) is the formal word for pigs.

一龙一猪 yī lóng yī zhū
One is a dragon, and the other is a pig.
(One is able and virtuous; the other, unworthy.)

泥猪瓦狗 ní zhū wǎ gǒ
Pigs fashioned from mud, dogs made from clay.
(useless things)

指猪骂狗 zhǐ zhū mà gǒ
Point the finger at the pig to chastise the dog.
(Indirectly chide or criticize someone.)

猪头猪脑 zhū tóu zhū nǎo
Having a pig’s head and brains.
(dumb as a pig)

冷水烫猪 lěngshuǐ tàng zhū
Using cold water to scald a pig.
(ineffective; a waste of effort)

人怕出名, 猪怕肥.
Rén pà chūmíng, zhū pà féi.
People shun fame for fear it might bring trouble just like a pig’s fattening calls for slaughter. (Think “Charlotte’s Web”.)

Perhaps this is what Master Confucius had in mind when he made the following remark about true gentlemen:

人不知而不愠
Rrén bùzhī ér bù yùn.
Even if no one takes note of them, they don’t mind.

春节快乐!
Chūnjié kuàilè!
Happy Spring Festival!

Chinese idioms involving the dog

Puppy Figurine

If you forgot to make a New Year’s resolution, now is your chance to make a Chinese New Year’s resolution. My resolution this year is to complete one of the books that have been sitting on my back burner for years. This one is a cookbook for people who are prone to the migraine disease. If you are a fellow migraineur, stay tuned. Hopefully the Year of the Dog will lend me the required energy to get this e-book out soon.

Speaking of dogs, the very first song my mother taught me when I was little had these lines:

一只哈巴狗
Yī zhī hǎbagǒu
A Pekingese dog

蹲在大门口
dūn zài dàmén kǒu
squats at the front entrance,

眼睛黑黝黝
yǎnjing hēiyōuyōu
with eyes shiny black,

想吃肉骨头
xiǎng chī ròu gútou
wanting to eat a meaty bone.

Dogs, or 狗 (gǒu), have been man’s best friend for about 3300 years. However, they have received mixed reviews in regards to their personality. Their unparalleled loyalty, or 忠诚度 (zhōngchéng dù), and capacity for love make them heart-winning house pets, or 宠物 (chǒngwù). On the other hand, when their mean streaks surface, they are cute no more, and in both English and Chinese the word “dog” also equates to “damned” or “cursed”. Therefore there are quite a few commonly used Chinese idioms that do not feature dogs in the best light.

In general, keeping a dog in a home is regarded as auspicious. When you learn of a friend’s adopting a pet dog, you could congratulate him or her by saying:

狗来福.
Gǒu lái fú.
Dog comes and brings good fortune.

Dogs have much keener sense of smell, sight and hearing than human beings. They can protect a family by barking or yapping at strangers. It is believed that they are able to tell the good guys from the bad as well as the rich and powerful from the poor and dejected. When someone puts you down, you are apt to think:

哼! 狗眼看人低!
Hng! Gǒuyǎnkànrén dī!
Humph! What a snob (like a dog)!

Sometimes the dog makes a mistake, as in the following story. 呂洞賓 (Lǚ Dòngbīn) was a scholar in the Tang Dynasty. He was well known for his studies in Taoism, medicine and various other subject matters as well as his kind heart. People ranked him among one of the eight great immortals of that time. It came to pass that one day Lǚ saw a starving dog. Out of sympathy, he gave the dog the dumpling that he was eating. The dog devoured the dumpling, but turned around and bit Lǚ. If someone ill rewards your kindness, you could tell others about it by using this saying:

狗咬呂洞賓, 不识好人心.
Ggǒuyǎolǚdòngbīn, bù shì hǎorén xīn.
Dog bites Lǚ Dòngbīn; can’t recognize a good heart when it sees one.

Often a dog will threaten people on the strength of its master’s power. 狗仗人勢 (Gǒuzhàngrénshì) means to bully someone under the protection of a powerful superior.

Now, if a dog bothers you, but it has a powerful master, or if the dog’s master is your friend, you would think twice before hitting the dog. The following idiom teaches you to look at the bigger picture instead of reacting hastily in some situations.

打狗看主人.
Dǎ gǒu kàn zhǔrén.
Mind whose dog it is before you strike.

Like a cornered dog, a person who has run out of resources might do something desperate. 狗急跳牆 (gǒujítiàoqiáng) means that, in a dire situation, a dog could jump over a wall.

Literally 打落水狗 (dǎluòshuǐgǒu) is to beat a drowning dog. Figuratively it means to deal a blow to a person who has lost power or favor, or to completely crush a defeated enemy.

If you made an inexcusable blunder at your job, your boss might level a stream of abusive language at you. This is likened to a jet of dog blood sprayed onto your head, as in:

老板把我骂了个狗血噴頭.
Lǎobǎn bǎ wǒ mà le gè gǒuxuěpēntóu.
The boss gave me a piece of his mind.

People who love to advise others but only have inept or even bad advice to offer are referred to as 狗頭軍師 (gǒutóujūnshī). 军师 (jūnshī) is a military counsellor.

The following expressions involve the dog plus another animal.

狗咬耗子 (gǒu yǎo hàozi) translates to: “Dog bites rat.” It refers to people meddling in other people’s affairs, which are none of their business.

If someone, for whom you have little regard, utters crude language, offers useless advice, or writes a mediocre article, you might make this disparaging remark to a third party:

狗嘴里长不出象牙.
Gǒu zuǐ li zhǎng bù chū xiàngyá.
A dog’s mouth can’t grow ivory.
(What can a dog do but bark?)

挂羊头卖狗肉 (guà yáng tóu mài gǒu ròu) means to display a goat’s head but sell dog meat, in other words, to bait and switch.

狐群狗党 (húqúngǒudǎng) refers to a gang of scoundrels (compared to foxes and wild dogs). 群 (qún) is a group of people, a crowd or a heard of animals. 党 (dǎng) usually refers to a political party.

You might describe a cold-blooded or unscrupulous person as having a wolf’s heart and a dog’s lungs, as in 狼心狗肺 (lángxīngǒufèi).

偷鸡摸狗 (tōu jī mō gǒu) means to engage in petty dishonest activities, such as stealing or having extra-marital affairs. 偷 (tōu) is to steal, pilfer or to be on the sly. 摸 (mō) is to feel or touch.

In traditional Chinese families, people are of the opinion that a daughter who has been married off must stick with her husband regardless of what kind of person he is. Remember that in earlier times, marriages were arranged by the parents, and Chinese women did not have a choice of whom they married.

嫁雞隨雞,嫁狗隨狗.
Jià jī suí jī, jià gǒu suí gǒu.
If you married a chicken, follow the chicken,
and if you married a dog, follow the dog.

It is interesting to note that the original saying goes like this:

嫁乞随乞,嫁叟随叟.
Jià qǐ suí qǐ, jià sǒu suí sǒu.
If you married a beggar, follow the beggar,
and if you married an old man, follow the old man.

No matter which way the saying is phrased, it teaches the women to 认命 (rènmìng), i.e. to accept their fate and try to work out the differences to keep the marriage in harmony. I think that goes for men as well.

Yeah, check out Learn Chinese through Songs and Rhymes
to learn additional Chinese expressions, idioms and sayings.

情人节快乐!
Qíngrén Jié kuàilè!
Happy Valentine’s Day!

春节快乐!
Chūnjié kuàilè!
Happy Spring Festival!

Learn Chinese word for year and age

The Chinese Lunar New Year falls on the 10th of February on the western calendar this year. It will be the Year of the Snake, a Chinese zodiac sign that represents shrewdness and intelligence. The Chinese character for snakes is (shé). The poisonous ones are called 毒蛇 (dúshé). 眼镜蛇 (yǎnjìngshé) is a cobra, and 响尾蛇 (xiǎngwěishé) is a rattlesnake. 四脚蛇 (sìjiǎoshé), literally a snake with four feet, is actually not a snake, but rather a lizard.

The old agriculture-based Chinese society has handed down to us the following saying:

一年之计在于春.
Yīniánzhiqjìzàiyúchūn.
The entire year’s planning hinges on spring.

This is akin to:

好的开始是成功的一半.
Hǎo de kāishǐ shì chénggōng de yībàn.
Well begun is half done.

As you know, the Chinese word for a year is (nián). 年年 (nián), or 年年岁岁 (niánniánsuìsuì), means every year, or year after year. On the other hand, 长年 (chángnián), or 终年 (zhōngnián), means all year long. Depending on the context, 终年 (zhōngnián) could also mean the year one dies.

年初 (niánchū) is the beginning of a year, while 年底 (niándǐ), or 年终 (niánzhōng), means year-end.

他领了不少年终奖金.
Tā lǐng le bùshǎo niánzhōng jiǎngjīn.
He received a substantial year-end bonus.

年代 (niándài) is a time period, or a decade.

在这个年代, 几乎人人都会用电脑.
Zài zhègè niándài, jīhū rénrén dōu huì yòng diànnǎo.
In this time and age, nearly everyone knows how to use a computer.

年级 (niánjí) is a grade or year of a school system. 年假 (niánjià) are the New Year holidays, which often coincide with the winter vacation.

薪金 (xīnjīn) or 薪水 (xīnshuǐ) is one’s salary or pay. Therefore, 年薪 (niánxīn) means annual salary.

利息 (lìxī) is the interest on a sum of money, and 年息 (niánxī) is the annual interest.

(nián) also refers to one’s age, as in 年岁 (niánsuì), 年纪 (niánjì) and 年龄 (niánlíng).

他多大年纪?
Tā duō dà niánjì?
How old is he?

他和我同年.
Tā hé wǒ tóngnián.
He and I are the same age.

年轻 (niánqīng) means young, and 年老 (niánlǎo) means aged.

幼年 (yòunián), or 童年 (tóngnián), means childhood. 中年 (zhōngnián) means middle age, and 晚年 (wǎnnián) and 老年 (lǎonián) refer to old age.

Returning to the subject of the Chinese Lunar New Year, 大年夜 (dàniányè) is the Lunar New Year’s Eve, when family would gather around and enjoy dishes of scrumptious foods together. 大年初一 (dàniánchūyī) is the Lunar New Year’s Day, when people would pay one another a New Year call, i.e. 贺年 (hènián) or 拜年 (bàinián).

大年初一我们到爷爷家拜年.
Dàniánchūyī wǒmén dào yéye jiā bàinián.
On New Year’s Day, we go to Grandfather’s house to wish him a Happy New Year.

The Chinese Lunar New Year is also called the Spring Festival.

春节快乐!
Chūnjié kuàilè!
Happy Spring Festival!

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