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.

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.

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:

Cáiyuán guǎng jìn niánnián jìn
Financial resources pour in abundantly year after year;

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.

Gōngxǐ fācái!
Have a happy and prosperous New Year!

Sing Que Sera Sera in Chinese

Some Chinese people believe that everyone’s fate is compiled in a celestial book called 天書 (tiānshū). In fact, the main character in the novel titled 红楼梦 (Hónglóumèng Dream of the Red Mansion) managed to get a glimpse of this heavenly book in one of his dreams. As 天書 (tiānshū) is in Chinese, the more reason for you to master the written Chinese language. Just kidding.

You’ve probably wondered why you are who you are, where you are and how you are. Is it all in the genes, is it due to your parents’ and your own efforts, or is it the outcome of a predetermined sequence of cause and effect admixed with a bit of magic at times? We will leave the argument of nature versus nurture to the philosophers. The correct answer for us today is, “Que sera sera.” That’s Spanish for “What will be, will be.”

“Que Sera Sera” is a song written by the Jay Livingston and Ray Evans songwriting team and made internationally popular by the adorable Doris Day. The lively tune buoys our spirits despite the fact that there is not really an answer to the big question. Click on this link to hear the Mandarin version performed by Teresa Deng.

The Mandarin lyrics can be found at this link.

世事 (shìshì) is the abbreviation of 世界上的事 (shìjiè shàng de shì), i.e. the affairs of life. Therefore 世事多变化. (Shìshì duō biànhuà.) means things in life change.

(wèn) means to ask. 问题 (wèntí) are questions. 好些问题 (hǎoxiē wèntí) means a good deal of questions.

将来 (jiānglái) means the future or in the future.
幸福 (xìngfú) means well-being or living happily.
或是 (huò shì) means or, perhaps.

有一番道理 (yǒu yī fān dàoli) means makes sense. You could also say 有道理 (yǒu dàoli).

未来 (wèilái future) means the future or future (adjective). 怎能 (zěn néng) means “how could one”. 料得及 (liào de jí) means able to predict. The complete line means “How could one predict the future?”

人生 (rénshēng) is life. 本是 (běn shì) is short for 本来是 (běnlái shì) means “after all is”. (mí) is a riddle. So, life is after all a riddle.

结婚后 (jiéhūn hòu) means “after getting married”. 夫唱妇又随 (fū chàng fù yòu suí) comes from the Chinese idiom 夫唱妇随 (fū chàng fù suí), which literally translates to: “The husband sings and the wife follows.” The traditional Chinese view is that a good wife should dance to her husband’s tune. This line describes a harmonious married life.

不止一回 (bùzhǐ yī huí) means not just once, or more than once.
是否永久 (shìfǒu yǒngjiǔ) means “whether or not if will be forever”.
多虑 (duō lǜ) means worrying too much.

现在的 (xiànzài de) is an adjective that means current or present. 儿女 (érnǚ) are one’s children.

伶俐 (língli) means bright and clever.

提起好些问题 (tíqǐ hǎoxiē wèntí) means to raise quite a few questions.

前途 (qiántú) is one’s future or prospect. 如意 (rúyì) means to have one’s wishes fulfilled.

(quàn) is to advise or to persuade somebody.

(mò) is the formal word for “don’t”, “not” or “no”. 莫多虑 (Mò duō lǜ.) means “Don’t worry too much.” In everyday speech, you would say: 別想太多. (Bié xiǎng tàiduō. Don’t think too much.)

May the New Year bring you health, happiness and good fortune!

Xīnnián rúyì!
May your wishes come true in the new year!

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