Year of the Rat and Chinese idioms associated with rats and mice

Year of the Rat Greeting Card

Year 2020 – Chinese Year of the Rat Greeting Card

Yikes! I’m scared of rats and mice. However, as a Chinese zodiac sign, rats represent wealth and abundance, and the ones pictured on the greeting card here do look kind of cute. If you wish to read up on the rats zodiac information, please click on this link.

Let’s take a closer look at the greeting card design. Notice how the various disks have a square hole in the center? Those represent the ancient Chinese coins. People used to string them together and carry the strings of cash coins around. Also, there are one or more occurrences of the following auspicious phrases on the card image. Are you able to find them all?

迎新年 (yíng xīnnián) Welcome the New year.

迎春纳福 (yíng chūn nàfú) Welocme spring and enjoy a life of ease and comfort.

迎春接福 (yíng chūn jiē fú) Welocme spring and enjoy a life of ease and comfort.

富贵有余 (fùguì yǒuyú) Have ample riches and prestige.

一路发财 (yīlù fācái) Make a fortune throughout the journey of life.

招财进宝 (zhāo cái jìn bǎo) May riches and treasures pour in.

财源滚滚 (cái yuán gǔn gǔn) May the source of wealth keep surging.

大吉大利 (dà jí dà lì) Very good fortune and great profit to you.

吉祥平安 (jíxiáng píng’ān) Auspiciousness and wellness be with you.

事事如意 (shìshìrúyì) Smooth going for everything.

In the above, (yíng) is an abbreviation for 欢迎 (huānyíng), which means to welcome or to greet.

Following are a few other popular New Year greetings:

恭喜发财 (gōng xǐ fā cái) Wish you happiness and prosperity.

心想事成 (xīn xiǎng shì chéng) May all your wishes come true.

万事如意 (wàn shì rú yì) May everything go as you wish.

年年有余 (nián nián yǒu yú) May you have abundance and surplus each year.

年年高升 (nián nián gāo shēng) May you get a promotion year after year.

岁岁平安 (suì suì píng ān) May you enjoy peace year after year.

(yú surplus) is a homonym for (yú fish). This is why many Chinese families include a dish of fish for the last dinner of the year but make sure to save part of the fish for consumption in the new year.

(gāo high, tall) is a homonym for (gāo cakes). 年糕 (niángāo), a very sweet cake, is usually served around Chinese New year because it connotes 年年高升. Instead of that sugary cake, I serve my family the wholesome Daikon radish cake, or 萝卜糕 (luóbogāo), the recipe of which can be found in “Tame Migraine the Delicious Way“.

The Chinese word for rats or mice is (shǔ) or 老鼠 (lǎoshǔ). In some dialects, rats and mice are called 耗子 (hàozi). The Chinese word for rats or mice is (shǔ) or 老鼠 (lǎoshǔ). In some dialects, rats and mice are called 耗子 (hàozi). 田鼠 (tiánshǔ) is a vole, 松鼠 (sōngshǔ) is a squirrel, 花鼠 (huāshǔ) is a chipmunk, and 飛鼠 (fēishǔ) is a flying squirrel. Get this: Kangaroos are called 袋鼠 (dàishǔ).

Here are a few popular Chinese idioms related to rats or mice.

抱头鼠窜 (bàotóushǔcuàn) to scurry off like a rat
胆小如鼠 (dǎnxiǎo rú shǔ) timid or faint-hearted like a mouse
过街老鼠 (guò jiē lǎoshǔ) a mouse crossing the street, despised by everyone who sees it
投鼠忌器 (tóushǔjìqì) to hesitate to throw something at a rat for fear of breaking some precious item, i.e. to have scruples about doing something
狗咬耗子 (gǒu yǎo hàozi) dog biting a rat, i.e. to be a busybody
猫哭老鼠 (māokūlǎoshǔ) a cat crying over a dead mouse; to shed crocodile tears
蛇头鼠眼 (shé tóu shǔ yǎn) with a snakes head and rat’s eyes, i.e. hideous and harboring evil intentions

For fun, we could add a couple expressions that make use of the characters (shǔ to count) and (shǔ to belong to), which sound the same as (shǔ).

好运鼠于你 (好运属于你 hǎoyùn shǔyú nǐ) Good luck be yours!

鼠不尽的快乐 (数不尽的快乐 shǔ bù jìn de kuàilè) Countless happiness!

恭贺新禧!
Gōnghèxīnxǐ!
Happy New Year!

Chinese idioms involving goats and monkeys

Prosperous New YearAs the Year of the Ram is transitioning into the Year of the Monkey, I thought it would be good for us to look at some of the Chinese idioms involving these animals.

(yáng) means sheep, ram or goat. Specifically, 綿羊 (miányáng) is the Chinese word for sheep, and 山羊 (shānyáng) are goats. Did you notice the two horns at the top of the Chinese character (yáng)?

A Chinese calligraphy or painting brush made of goat’s hair usually has the word 羊毫 (yángháo) marked on it. They are softer than 狼毫(lángháo), which is made of weasel’s hair.

羊毛(yángmáo) is fleece. The idiom 羊毛出在羊身上(yángmáochūzàiyángshēnshang) describes a situation in which a benefit actually came from one’s own contribution or expenditure. If a sheep receives a fleece blanket as a gift, it will behoove it to remember that the wool came from its own back. In other words, there is no free lunch.

A narrow meandering path is often referred to as 羊腸小道(yángchángxiǎodào). 羊腸(yángcháng) are a goat’s intestines.

掛羊頭賣狗肉(guàyángtóumàigǒuròu) means to display a goat’s head but sell dog meat instead, i.e. to bait and switch.

順手牽羊 (shùnshǒuqiānyáng) means to walk off with someone else’s belonging that is lying around.

亡羊補牢(wángyángbǔláo) means to repair the fence after a sheep is killed (such as by a cayote). This idiom could be used both ways – to say that it’s too late for the lost sheep, or to say that it’s not too late to try to save the other sheep.

Then there is the scapegoat, or 替罪羊 (tìzuìyáng) or 代罪羔羊 (dàizuìgāoyáng). 羔羊 (gāoyáng) is a lamb.

The Chinese character for monkeys is rather interesting in that on the right side is (hóu), which stands for a high official. On the left side is the radical for animals – (hóu). And an idiom comes naturally to mind. 沐猴而冠 (mùhóuérguàn) describes a worthless person who makes himself look impressive, like a monkey that was bathed and dressed in imposing attire. The man in the above image is shown in ancient Chinese government costume, indicating status and power. Now picture a monkey in this outfit.

Compared to 老虎(lǎohǔ tigers), 猴子 (hóuzi monkeys) are weak and powerless. However, when there are no tigers in the mountains, then a monkey could claim to be the king. Therefore the following saying makes fun of people whose abilities do not match the high position they hold.

山上無老虎,猴子稱大王.
Shān shàng wú lǎohǔ, hóuzi chēng dàwáng.

(tóu) is the head, and (nǎo) are the brains. 猴頭猴腦 (hóu tóu hóu nǎo) is an expression used to describe a youngster who is hyperactive, flighty and careless.

A futile attempt to save a situation is often likened to a monky that tries to scoop the moon out of the water but drowns in the process. (jiù) means to rescue, to save or to help.

這就像猴子救月.
Zhè jiù xiàng hóuzi jiù yuè.
This is tantamount to a monkey trying to rescue the moon.

殺雞儆猴 (shājījǐnghóu) or 殺雞給猴看 (shājīgěihóukàn) means to ‘kill a chicken in front of a monkey’, i.e to make an example out of someone. Punishing someone often serves the purpose of frightening others who have a similar plot in mind.

I came across an interesting flower that has an eerie resemblance to a monkey’s face. You can click on this link to see what a 猴蘭 (hóulán monkey orchid) looks like.

The greeting card above shows the following couplet:

財源廣進年年進;
Cáiyuán guǎng jìn niánnián jìn
Financial resources pour in abundantly year after year;

利路亨通日日通.
Lì lù hēngtōng rì rì tōng
Road to profits and riches goes smoothly day after day.

The Chinese believe that the Year of the Monkey brings vitality. Take the “k” out of “monkey”, and you’ll get “money”. May you have all the energy and $ you need to accomplish everything you want in this coming Chinese lunar year.

恭禧发财!
Gōngxǐ fācái!
Have a happy and prosperous New Year!

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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