Learn Chinese characters that look so darned similar (2)

ll-Autumn-s

What a coincidence! 真巧! (Zhēn qiǎo!) In today’s date, all three numbers are the same in the mm/dd/yy date format. In Chinese, 12/12/12 reads, for the last century: 一九一二年十二月十二日 (yī jiǔ yī èr nián shíèryuè shíèr rì). For the 21st century, it reads: 二零一二年十二月十二日 (èr líng yī èr nián shíèryuè shíèr rì). Although the temperatures have dropped quite a bit, officially we are still in autumn.

All right, let’s look at (ér son, youngster) and (jǐ several, how many). You can see that their difference could easily be glossed over. You already know that a son is called 儿子 (érzi), while a daughter is called 女儿 (nǚér). You would refer to your child as 我的儿子 (wǒde érzi) or 我的女儿 (wǒde nǚér). To be polite in writing, some people refer to their son as 小犬 (xiǎo quǎn my puppy).

When referring to someone else’s son or daughter, you can generally use 儿子 (érzi) or 女儿 (nǚér) . If you want to be extra polite, then you would use 贵公子 (guì gōngzǐ your valuable, noble son) or 贵千金 (guì qiānjīn your valuable, noble daughter) instead.

Yet another way to refer to someone else’s son or daughter is to make use of the word (lìng). This character looks similar to (jīn), as in 今天 (jīntiān today) and 今年 (jīnnián this year). (lìng) has several different meanings. For example, 命令 (mìnglìng) is an order or a command. (lìng) also means excellent. Therefore, 令郎 (lìng láng) means your excellent son, and 令嫒 (lìng ài) means your excellent daughter.

The pseudonym I put on the above painting contains (ling excellent) as well as (jiā), which means “of fine quality”, or “to praise”. Hey, if one is to adopt a pseudonym, one might as well pick the best characters possible. By the way, this little painting was inspired by a video demonstration I watched at BlueHeronArts.com. I went there to purchase the silicone paper I want to try for dry-mounting paintings done on rice paper. (I’ve messed up a couple paintings before while using the traditional wet-mounting method.) If you are interested in Chinese brush painting, check out Mr. Henry Li’s numerous video demonstrations on youtube. Mrs Li, Victoria, teaches Chinese Calligraphy.

The only difference between (dà big) and (tài greatest, excessively) is one tiny mark. It make sense that when one adds to something that is already large, it would become excessively large. If you haven’t heard the story involving these two characters and the ancient Chinese calligrapher, 王献之 (Wáng Xiànzhī), please click on this link.

(quǎn) is the formal word for a dog. If you are not careful and let the last stroke curve up, then you will get a totally different character, namely (yóu), which is a Chinese surname and has several different meanings. 尤其 (yóuqí) is an adverb that means “particularly” or “especially”. 尤物 (yóuwù) is a sensational object, usually referring to a gorgeous woman.

他不喜欢吃鱼, 尤其是带鱼.
Tā bù xǐhuān chī yú, yóuqí shì dàiyú.
He does not like to eat fish, especially hairtail.

(tián) means farmland. It is also a Chinese surname. If you let the middle vertical stroke stick out, then it becomes (yóu), which has several different meanings. In 理由 (lǐyóu), it means cause or reason. In 由此可见 (yóucǐkějiàn You can see from this that …), it means “from”.

(zǎo) means early morming or “Good morning.”, but (hàn) is a dry spell.

(kuài) means quickly or happy, but if you add an extra stroke to it, you will get (yàng), which means discontented.

(míng), as you know, means fame or a name. As a verb in formal Chinese, it means to describe. Extend one of the strokes to get (gè), which means each or various, as in 各地 (gèdì in various places).

(mǔ) means mother or female. Some people do their own simplification and write one longer stroke instead of the two small strokes. This results in a different character, (wú), which is one of the formal words for “no” or “not”.

I’m sure you have encountered other Chinese characters that are easily confused with one another. Following are a few more to pay attention to:

(jīn) is a unit of weight, a little over one pound, while (chì) means to scold or repel.

她受到无理的斥责.
Tā shòudào wúlǐ de chìzé.
She was reprimanded unjustifiably.

(zú) means the feet, sufficient or satisfied.
(shì) is the “be” verb.

(yǔ) means rain, while (liǎng) means two.

(lá) is to come, while (jiā) means to place between two things or persons. (jiā) as a noun can be a tweezer or a folder. As an adjective, (jiá) means double-layered, with something in between, like a filled Oreo cookie. When you go home to visit, your parents may tell you at lunch or dinner:

多夹些菜吃.
Duō jiā xiē cài chī.
Get (pick up with your chopsticks) more food from the dishes.

What a coincidence!

You go to a company picnic and find out that the guy sitting next to you has the same birthday as yours. You board an airplane and are greeted by a stewardess who was your first love. You normally don’t carry much money with you, but this day you cashed $500 from the bank and you are mugged. These are coincidences, events that normally have a low probability of occurring at the same time. The Chinese word for coincidence is 巧合 (qiǎohé), which literally translates to “fortuitous concurrence”.

One of the meanings of the word (qiǎo) is coincidence. It can also be used as an adjective, as in the following exclamation:

真巧!
Zhēn qiǎo!
What a coincidence! (This is truly coincidental!)

The following adverbs all mean “coincidentally”, “by chance” or “unexpectedly”: 碰巧 (pèngqiǎo), 刚巧 (gāngqiǎo), 正巧 (zhèngqiǎo).

我在店里碰巧看到他.
Wǒ zài diàn lǐ pèngqiǎo kàndào tā.
By chance I saw him in the store.

恰巧 (qiàqiǎo fortunately) and 凑巧 (còuqiǎo luckily) refer to a favorable coincidence. 恰好 (qiàhǎo) can mean “as luck would have it” or “just right”. In the former sense, it is interchangeable with 恰巧 (qiàqiǎo).

我去的时候, 他恰巧在办公室里.
Wǒ qù de shíhòu, tā qiàqiǎo zài bàngōngshì lǐ.
When I went there, he happened to be in the office.

If the coincidenc is unfavorable, you would say 不巧 (bùqiǎo unfortunately, regrettably).

很不巧, 今天他不在.
Hěn bùqiǎo, jīntiān tā bùzà.
Regrettably, today he is not here.

(qiǎo) also means ingenious, crafty, skillful, artful and cunning, as you may gather by looking at the components of this character. On the left side is the word root, (gōng to work, worker, craftmanship), indicating that some work is involved. And the several bends and turns in the symbol on the right side definitely point to some craftiness.

人类有聪明的头脑和灵巧的双手.
Rénlèi yǒu cōngmín de tóunǎo hé língqiǎo de shuāngshǒu.
Human beings have intelligent brains and skillful hands.

我欣赏这手机的巧妙设计.
Wǒ xīnshǎng zhè shǒujī de qiǎomiào shèjì.
I like this cell phone’s ingenious design.

她的舞步轻巧.
Tā de wǔ bù qīngqiǎo.
Her dance steps are light and nimble.

There is a well known Chinese puzzle game, called 七巧板 (qīqiǎobǎn tangrams). Please click on this link and read the article posted there on 11/09/2011 to find out more about this ingenious and inexpensive game.

The term 乖巧 (guāiqiǎo) is often used to describe a youngster as being cute, clever and endearing.

Obviously, 花言巧语 (huāyánqiǎoyǔ) means flowery language and cunning words.

不要听他的花言巧语.
Bùyào tīng tā de huāyánqiǎoyǔ.
Don’t listen to his sweet talk.

取巧 (qǔqiǎo) means to employ trickery to serve one’s purpose.

不要投机取巧.
Bùyào tóujīqǔqiǎo.
Don’t be opportunistic.

(nòng) means to do, play with, or fool with something. (chéng) means “to accomplish”, “to complete” or “to result in”. (zhuō clumsy, awkward) is the opposite of (qiǎo).

不要弄巧成拙.
Bùyào nòngqiǎochéngzhuō.
Don’t outsmart yourself.

Please note that 巧克力 (qiǎokèlì) is just the Chinese transliteration of “chocolates”, and this term has nothing to do with coincidence or skillfulness.

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