Mar 02, 2019

Chinese words that you don’t learn in textbooks (II)

By Kelly Chen | A Super Chineasian

Let’s continue with the journey of learning interesting words. If you haven’t read the Part I post, then here is the link to it.

人 (Person) + 口 (Mouth) = 人口 (Population)

To the Chinese, “population” is the number of people’s mouths needed to be fed. What a practical interpretation!

人口 pinyin: rén kǒu; Population

口 (Mouth) + 水 (Water) = 口水  (Saliva)

The water (水) coming from the mouth (口) is most likely to be saliva (口水).

口水 pinyin: kǒu shuǐ; Saliva

口 (Mouth) + 水 (Water) + 鸡 (Chicken) = 口水鸡 (Mouthwatering chicken)

It’s as easy as that!

Have you ever tried the Chinese dish called mouthwatering chicken? Do you know how to say the name of the dish in Chinese?

The precise origins of the dish 口水鸡 are unclear; however, one popular story is that in the Qing Dynasty, a famous Chinese author called Guo Moruo once took a look at this dish and hungrily said: this dish makes my mouth water.

Another interesting thing about the dish is that although most people regard 口水鸡 as a Sichuan (四川) dish, however, there are so many different versions of 口水鸡 across China, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

What’s your favourite Chinese chicken dish? Will you try 口水鸡 next time when you order your Chinese dish?

水 (Water) + 田 (Field) = 水田 (Paddy Field)

According to Cambridge Dictionary, paddy field is a FIELD planted with rice growing in WATER. And that’s how Chinese language interprets the phrase “paddy field” as well.

水田 pinyin: shuǐ tián; Paddy Field

天 (Sky) + 牛 (Cow) = 天牛 (Longhorn beetle) [literally] (Cow in the Sky)

“Longhorn beetle” refers to a family of beetles with over 20,000 species. The family is named as such because most of the species have very long antennae (horns). The biggest longhorn beetle is the Titan beetle, which can grow up to 16.7cm long. Wild!

In Chinese, the idea of “horn” is associated with cows, and many beetles can fly, so to make the phrase that means “longhorn beetle,” we literally say “sky cow”!

天牛 pinyin: tiān niú; Longhorn beetle

小 (Little) + 王 (Wang) = 小王 (Wang Junior)

Do you have any Chinese acquaintances with Chinese surnames? Among the Chinese, besides using proper titles (e.g. Mr, Mrs or Ms), we sometimes address our close acquaintances by adding prefixes to their surname. It’s a way to show that we are close friends! The phrase, 小王, is a good example.

In this phrase, 王 refers to the popular surname Wang, not its normal definition of “king.” By adding the prefix 小, which means “junior” in this context, 小王 is a little like saying “Wang Junior.” You would only use this phrase if your close acquaintance has the surname Wang and is younger than you.

Don’t worry, your older friends get a prefix too! We often use 老 (lǎo) for this purpose, but depending on what your acquaintance’s surname is and his/her age compared to yours, the way to address him/her will be varied. Here are a few more examples for you to check out:

  • 老王 (lǎo Wang; Wang Senior)
  • 小李 (xiǎo Li; Li Junior)
  • 小馬/小马 (xiǎo Ma; Ma Junior)
  • 老馬/老马 (lǎo Ma; Ma Senior)

For those of you who would like to use 小 (xiǎo) or 老 (lǎo) as a prefix to address your Chinese teacher, think again! In Chinese culture, we always address our teachers with a proper title, 老師 (lǎo shī; teacher), to show our respect. So, if your teacher’s surname is 王, then the most appropriate way to address him/her would be 王老師 (wáng lǎo shī; Teacher Wang). Got it?!


By Kelly Chen | A Super Chineasian

Kelly is a dreamer and a traveler, who loves to study of individuals, groups, or organisations and all the activities associated with the purchase behaviour, including the consumer's emotional, mental and behavioural responses.

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