Learn Chinese word radical – Double-person

If you cut (xíng to walk) vertically through the middle, the left side is (chì), representing a step forward with the left foot; and the right side is (chù), representing a step forward with the right foot.

Does the character for street, (jiē), make more sense to you now?

We’ve talked about the “person” word radical (rén). It is also known as the single-person radical, or 单人旁 (dānrénpáng). The (chì) radical, is also referred to as the double-person radical, 双人旁 (shuāngrénpáng), as it looks like a single-person radical stacked on top of another one. (páng side or other) refers to a lateral radical of a Chinese character.

Understandably, the (chì) is often found in words associated with walking or pathways.

(tú) means walking on foot, as in 徒步旅行 (túbùlǚxíng hiking). This word also has quite a few other meanings. It can represent a fellow, as in 徒弟 (túdì apprentice or disciple) and 歹徒 (dǎitú scoundrel, bad guy). It can mean a prison sentence, or 徒刑 (túxíng). In formal Chinese, it is also used as an adverb that means “merely” or “only” in a negative sense. For example, 徒劳无功 (túláowúgōng) means making an effort in vain.

(lǜ) means restraint or law and order. 法律 (fǎlǜ) is a law or a statute. 规律 (guīlǜ) can mean regulations or regularity.

我们必须遵守法律.
Wǒmén bìxū zūnshǒu fǎlǜ.
We must abide by the law.

(jìng) is a small path, a track or a way. 途径 (tújìng) is a way or a channel. When used figuratively, it refers to the means for doing something. 半径 (bànjìng) is the radius of a circular shape. What is the diameter called in Chinese?

径自 (jìngzì) means to take the liberty to do something, without permission or without consulting anyone.

他径自走进了市长的办公室.
Tā jìngzì zǒu jìn shìzhǎng bàngōngshì.
He walked into the mayor’s office uninvited.

徘徊 (páihuái) is to saunter back and forth. 彷徨 (pánghuáng) to waver and not know what to do.

他心里苦闷, 在街上徘徊了许久.
Tā xīnli kǔmèn, zài jiē shàng páihuái le xǔjiǔ.
He felt dejected, and moseyed up and down the street for a good while.

(zhēng) is to go on an expedition or going to a battle. In the Simplified Chinese system, this word also means to levy taxes, i.e. 征税 (zhēngshuì), to draft men for military service, i.e., 征兵 (zhēng bīng), or to solicit job applicants. In addition, it also refers to an evidence or a sign.

Are you looking for a job? If so, pay attention when you hear something like this:

那家百货公司正在征求店员.
Nèijiā bǎihuò gōngsī zhèngzài zhēngqiú diànyuán.
That department store is looking for salesclerks.

白鸽象征和平.
Bái gē xiàngzhēng hépíng.
Doves symbolize peace.

(yì) means labour or service. 服役 (fúyì) is to be on active military service.

(dài) also has multiple meanings. 等待 (děngdài) means to wait for someone or something. 对待 (duìdài) means to treat or deal with a person or to approach a matter. 接待 (jiēdài) is to receive or admit a guest.

(hěn) is an adverb that means very or quite.

我很不高兴你这样对待她.
Wǒ hěn bù gāoxìng nǐ zhèyàng duìdài tā.
I’m very unhappy with the way you treat her.

(dé) means to get, to obtain, or to gain. So, 得分 (défēn)
means to score in a ball game or in popularity.

(yǎn) means to spread out or smear over.
The Chinese idiom 敷衍了事 (fūyanliǎoshì) means doing something perfunctorily.

千万不要敷衍了事.
Qiānwàn bùyào fūyanliǎoshì.
Absolutely don’t just muddle through this task.

FYI, you would have had a few more commonly used Chinese words to study this week had they not lost their double-person radical in the Simplified Chinese System.

Chinese idioms and expressions involving the horse

Happy New Year

Happy New Year

‘Tis the Year of the Horse. Horses have served people in transportation, farming, wars, horse races as well as leisurely horseback riding. No wonder there are so many Chinese words, expressions and idioms containing the character for horse, or (mǎ). We’ll look at a few examples today.

走马看花 (zǒumǎkànhuā) means glancing at the flowers while riding on horseback. You might use this expression to describe your short stay at a place, which did not afford you a good understanding of its people and culture. Or, you could use it while talking about the limited or superficial understanding you have gained on a subject through cursory observation or a brief study.

马不停蹄 (mǎbùtíngtí) means doing something without stopping. (tíng) means to stop. (tí) is a horse’s hoof.

他日夜赶工, 马不停蹄.
Tā rìyè gǎn gōng, mǎbùtíngtí.
He worked day and night, not stopping for a moment.

(biān) is a whip. As a verb, it means to whip. 快马加鞭 (kuàimǎjiābiān) means spurring a horse that’s already going very fast in order to speed up even more. In other words, going at top speed.

老马识途 (lǎomǎshítú) is an expression that gives due credit to an old horse that knows the way, or to an old hand who can lend his experience and offer guidance.

On the other hand, 盲人瞎马 (mángrénxiāmǎ) or 盲人骑瞎马 (mángrén qí xiāmǎ) describes the worrisome situation of a vision-impaired person riding a blind horse, about to plunge into disaster.

这像是盲人骑瞎马.
Zhè xiàng shì mángrén qí xiāmǎ.
This is like a blind leading a blind.

(liǎn) is the face, and (cháng) means long. It is obvious that the horse has an elongated face. However, the horse itself may not be aware of it. The expression 马不知脸长 (mǎ bùzhī liǎn cháng) is commonly used to criticize a person who is unable to see his or her own faults or shortcomings. It is usually uttered during a gossip behind the back of the target.

死马当作活马医 (sǐmǎdàngzuòhuómǎyī) is another interesting expression. This sentence translates to: “Try to heal a dead horse as if it were still alive.” It implies not giving up but trying everything possible to remedy a hopeless situation.

怎么办呢? 只好死马当作活马医了.
Zěnme bàn ne? Zhǐhǎo sǐmǎdàngzuòhuómǎyī le.
What to do? We can only try our best and see how it goes.

(fēng) is the wind. (niú) is a cow. Neither has anything to do with a horse. Therefore, 风马牛不相及 (fēngmǎniúbùxiāngjí) means totally irrelevant.

牛头不对马嘴 (niútóubùduìmǎzuǐ) means the horse’s jaws don’t fit into a cow’s head. This expression describes how the reply one gets does not answer the question one asked. The more formal expression is 答非所问 (dá fēi suǒ wèn).

单枪匹马 (dānqiāngpǐmǎ) means one spear and one horse, i.e. single-handed. Think of Gary Cooper in “High Noon”.

招兵买马 (zhāobīngmǎimǎ) is to recruit solders and purchase horses, i.e. to build an army or to recruit followers. Again, think of Gary Cooper in “High Noon”.

As the “ma” syllable occurs frequently in the English language, the (mǎ) character is used in the transliteration of quite a few English words. For example, 马达 (mǎdá) is a motor, 马拉松 (mǎlāsōng) is marathon, 马赛克 (mǎsàikè) means mosaic, and 巴哈马 (Bāhāmǎ) is the transliteration for the Bahamas. Also, 马来西亚 (Malaysia) is Malaysia, and 马来半岛 (Mǎlāibàndǎo) is the Malay Peninsula.

How do you think President Obama’s name should be translated into Chinese? 奥巴马 (Aòbāmǎ) or 欧巴马 (Oūbāmǎ)? Read this article in the Washington Post to see which side you are on.

马到成功 (mǎdàochénggōng) means to win success upon arrival. The horse is involved in this expression because it represents the troops in ancient times. What could be better than winning the battle as soon as you confront the enemy?

祝你马到成功!
Zhù nǐ mǎdàochénggōng!
May you achieve instant success!

By the way, some of you may wonder why a pineapple is featured in the above photo. The pineapple is called “wěng lái” in the Taiwanese dialect. This happens to be the same as how you’d pronounce 旺来 (wàng lái) in Taiwanese. (wàng) means prosperity and (lái) means to come. Therefore, in Taiwan, the pineapple symbolizes the advent of prosperity.

Also, if you look closer at the card in the picture, at the bottom there is something beside the vase. It is actually an elongated piece for scratching one’s back. The everyday version is usually made of wood or plastic. For the emperor or the very rich, it may be made from jade or gold. As scratching one’s back makes one feel good, this s-shaped stick is nicknamed 如意 (rúyì as one wishes) and has become a symbol of good luck.

Learn Chinese word radical – Rain

Snow 雪 (xuě)

Snow 雪 (xuě)

We have discussed the Chinese character for rain, (yǔ), a few times before. This character, featuring four drops of water, also serves as a word radical that is employed in words involving precipitation or moisture in the air. As you know, one advantage of being able to recognizing a word radical is that you will only need to learn the remaining part in a new word.

As with many other natural elements, the words containing the rain radical are often used in phrases associated with human nature.

We will start with a simple character, (xuě snow).

你会滑雪吗?
Nǐ huì huáxuě ma?
Do you know how to ski?

(xuě) is also used as a verb in the idiom 报仇雪耻 (bàochóuxuěchǐ), which means to take revenge and wipe out a humiliation.

(tàn) is charcoal. (sòng) means to give or to deliver. The idiom 雪中送炭 (xuězhōngsòngtàn providing charcoal in snowy weather) means to offer needed help and be “a friend indeed”.

(shuāng) is frost. 雪上加霜 (xuěshàngjiāshuāng), means to have frost added on top of snow, to have one disaster after another, or to add insult to injury.

(bīng) is ice. 冰雹 (bīngbáo) are hailstones. Some one who is really aloof might be described as being icy. The following comment is often bestowed on strikingly beautiful women who give their admirers the cold shoulder.

艳若桃李, 冷若冰霜.
Yàn ruò táo lǐ, lěng ruò bīng shuāng.
Gorgeous as peach and plum blossoms, but cold as ice and frost.

(léi) is thunder, which often strikes a field when it rains. 地雷 (dìléi) are land mines.

雷声大,雨点小. (léishēngdà,yǔdiǎnxiǎo) literally translates to “loud thunder but tiny raindrops”. This idiom implies that much is proclaimed but followed by little action.

暴跳如雷 (bàotiàorúléi) and 大发雷霆 (dàfāléitíng) both mean flying into a rage.

他听了这话, 暴跳如雷.
Tā tīng le zhè huà, bàotiàorúléi.
After hearing these words, he flew off the handle.

如雷贯耳 (rúléiguàněr) literally translates to “like thunder piercing the ears”, but this idiom is used for complimenting a person on his or her colossal reputation, implying that everyone is praising that person and the clamor fills the ear like thunder.

(lù) as a noun means dew. 雨露 (yǔlù rain and dew) often refers to grace and bounty.

(ní) is the secondary rainbow. What is the primary raindow called in Chinese?

We learned before that 晚霞 (wǎnxiá) is the evening glow at sunset.

(zhèn) means to shake or shock, or to be greatly shocked, as in 震惊 (zhènjīng). 地震 (dìzhèn) is an earthquake.

他听了这消息, 十分震惊.
Tā tīng le zhè xiāoxi, shífēn zhènjīng.
He was shocked to hear this piece of news.

(méi) is mildew. 发霉 (fāméi) is to become moldy.
倒霉 (dǎoméi), on the other hand, means to have bad luck.

今天又碰到他. 倒霉!
Jīntiān yòu pèng dào tā. Dǎoméi!
I ran into him again today. Just my luck!

The proper word for “tough luck” is 倒楣 (dǎoméi). However, 倒霉 (dǎoméi) has been so widely used that it has won legitimacy. Either way you write it, it’s not a happy word.

下雪天, 走路开车都要当心.
Xià xuě tiān, zǒulù kāichē dōu yào dāngxīn,
In snowy weather, walk and drive carefully.

For a short discussion of other weather conditions please see Chapter 22 of “Learn Chinese through Songs and Rhymes“.

Chinese idioms that follow the AABB pattern (3)

Don’t you just love these fun Chinese idioms? I know you can’t have enough of them. So, here are a few more descriptive phrases that you could learn and keep handy. Applied appropriately, these phrases will make you sound more authentic and less bookish.

迷迷糊糊 (mímíhūhū) means befuddled or being in a state of confusion.

我那时迷迷糊糊, 不知道自己说了什么.
Wǒ nàshí mímíhūhū, bù zhīdào zìjǐ shuō le shénme.
At that time I was in a daze and didn’t know what I was saying.

疯疯颠颠 (fēngfēngdiāndiān) is to behave like an insane person. This phrase is often used to describe a flighty or crazy behavior

别这样疯疯颠颠的.
Bié zhèyàng fēngfēngdiāndiān de.
Stop acting like a lunatic.

急急忙忙 (jíjímángmáng hurriedly) and 匆匆忙忙 (cōngcōngmángmáng hastily) are opposite to 慢慢腾腾 (mànmànténgténg unhurriedly).

他急急忙忙赶回家去.
Tā jíjímángmáng gǎnhuíjiā qù.
He hurried home.

慌慌张张 (huānghuāngzhāngzhāng) means being flustered and doing things chaotically or haphazardly.

他慌慌张张地穿上衣服.
Tā huānghuāngzhāngzhāng de chuān shàng yīfu.
He put on his clothes haphazardly.

密密麻麻 (mìmìmámá) means close and numerous; thickly dotted.

那张纸上印着密密麻麻的文字.
Nèi zhāng zhǐ shàng yìn zhe mìmìmámá de wénzì.
That sheet of paper was crammed with closely printed text.

地地道道 (dìdìdàodào) means authentic, genuine, or to the core.

这是地地道道的茅台酒.
Zhè shì dìdìdàodào de máotáijiǔ.
This is genuine Maotai (a famous Chinese liquor).

Many other four-character Chinese phrases are in popular use but have not attained the status of an official idiom. These are usually descriptive words that are uttered in the AABB pattern for emphasis. We could call them pseudo-idioms.

For example, 清楚 (qīngchǔ) means clear or clearly.

我已经清清楚楚地告诉了他.
Wǒ yǐjīng qīng qīng chǔ chǔ de gàosù le tā.
I’ve already told him plain and clear.

实在 (shízai) as an adverb means “truly”, such as in “He is truly careless.” As a description of a person or an item, it means being substantial, stable and solid.

他是个实实在在的人.
Tā shì gè shí shí zai zai de rén.
He is a down-to-earth person.

孤单 (gūdān) means lonely or alone.

他孤孤单单地住在那儿.
Tā gū gū dān dān de zhù zài nàr.
He lives there all by himself.

懒散 (lǎnsǎn) means sluggish or indolent.

他整天懒懒散散的.
Tā zhěngtiān lǎn lǎn sǎn sǎn de.
He dawdles the whole day.

弯曲 (wānqū) means zigzagged or curvy.

那条山路弯弯曲曲的.
Nèi tiáo shānlù wān wān qū qū de.
That mountain road meanders.

If you have a favorite Chinese idiom or pseudo-idiom in the AABB pattern, why not put it in a comment to share with everyone?

Chinese idioms that follow the AABB pattern (2)

Let’s start today with a few four-character Chinese idioms that feature a couple nouns arranged in the AABB pattern.

You know that 妈妈 (māma) means mother, and 婆婆 (pópo) could refer to a married woman’s mother-in-law or an old lady in general. Put together, 婆婆妈妈 (pópomāmā) means to be fussy or mushy like an over-sentimental mother or old lady. You can apply this phrase to anyone (male or female) who behaves in this mawkish way.

我最怕她的婆婆妈妈.
Wǒ zuì pà tā de pópomāmā.
I dread her mawkish ways.

As the constituent words suggest, 朝朝暮暮 (zhāozhāomùmù) means mornings and evenings. It implies day and night, or all the time. You may have come across this phrase in a song or a poem.

她朝朝暮暮思念她的情人.
Tā zhāozhāomùmù sīniàn tā de qíngrén.
She misses her sweetheart every waking moment.

世世代代 (shìshìdàidài) means generation after generation.

他们家世世代代都行医.
Tāmen jiā shìshìdàidài dōu xíngyī.
Their family has for generations practiced medicine.

口口声声 (kǒukoushēngshēng) means to maintain a statement by adamantly making the claim with each utterance. This phrase is shown below in a compound sentence. For additional examples of compound sentences, please see Chapter 25 of “Learn Chinese through Songs and Rhymes”.

她口口声声说她爱我, 但我看不出她的真心.
Tā kǒukoushēngshēng shuō tā ài wǒ, dàn wǒ kàn bù chū tā de zhēnxīn.
She maintains that she loves me, but I fail to see her sincerity.

(diǎn) is a dot, a point, or a bit. (dī) is a drop of liquid. 点点滴滴 (diǎndiǎndīdī) stands for bits of details. Note, however, that 点滴 (diǎndī) is the medical term for intravenous drip.

他用幽默的语气描述这场比赛的点点滴滴.
Tā yòng yōumò yǔqì miáoshù zhèi chǎng bǐsài de diǎndiǎndīdī.
He used a humorous tone to describe the bits of details of this competitive match.

Here are a few idioms that employ verbs in the AABB pattern.

拖拖拉拉 (tuōtuōlālā) is to drag one’s feet, to procrastinate, or to do things inefficiently.

快一点! 别拖拖拉拉.
Kuài yīdiǎn! bié tuōtuōlālā.
Hurry up! Don’t drag your feet.

指点 (zhǐdiǎn) means to give directions or pointers. On the other hand, 指指点点 (zhǐzhǐdiǎndiǎn) is to point fingers at another person or other people to place a blame or to gossip about them.

奶奶老爱指指点点.
Nǎina lǎo ài zhǐzhǐdiǎndiǎn.
Grandma always likes to point to people and say this and that.

蹦蹦跳跳 (bèngbèngtiàotiào) means bouncing around vivaciously.

孩子们活泼地蹦蹦跳跳.
Háizǐ men huópō de bèngbèngtiàotiào.
The children bounced around energetically.

(tōu) means to steal. (mō) means to touch, to stroke, or to grope around. 偷偷摸摸 (tōutōumōmō) describes doing things in a surreptitious way.

他们偷偷摸摸地溜了.
Tāmen tōutōumōmō de liū le.
They slipped away in secret.

If you could like to hear some of the above sentences sounded out, please click on this link then select “Idioms in AABB Pattern.mp3”.

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