Word: DIAN NAO
Break it down: Dian means electric. Nao means brain. The Chinese term for telephone? 'Electric brain'.
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Word: DIAN HUA
Break it down: Dian means electric. Hua means talk. The Chinese term for telephone? 'Electric talk'.
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Word: LA DUZI (pron lah doo zuh)
Break it down: La means 'to pull'. Duzi is 'the stomach'.
Meaning: What we have here sounds like some ancient torture method of the Tang Dynasty. However, "to pull the stomach" is in fact the Chinese way of saying diarrhoea. This will be a handy word to know if you hang around here for long enough. And yes, a particularly bad case could be called a real doozy.
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Word: CHA ZUI
Break it down: Cha means to 'insert' something. Zui means 'mouth'.
Meaning: What we have here is the Mandarin for 'interrupt' while someone is talking: To insert a mouth into proceedings.
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Phrase: PAI MA PI
Break it down: Pai - to align, as in 'set in a row'; Ma - the horse, or course, that staple of Chinese slang; Pi - a fart.
Meaning: To pai ma pi is to flatter someone, or to "align horse farts", for what such words are worth.
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PHRASE: Chao You Yu.
Break it down: Chao - to fry; You yu - squid.
Meaning: So the phrase is to 'fry squid'. But what it actually means is to sack somebody from their job.
"Hi Honey. How was your day?" "Not good. I had my squid fried. I've got to look for another job".
WTF: I've tried and tried, but noone can explain how the hell squid became part of the phrase for laying someone off. If you know, please email in your explanation. But at any rate, it probably smells no worse than downsizing, restructuring, orstreamlining.
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Phrase: CHAO YOU YU
Break it down: It literally means "to fry squid" but is used to say "got the sack".
Having featured this in amused bafflement last week, we've got to the bottom of it. Traditionally here, when people packed up their belongings to go somewhere, they made them into a bundle wrapped in a blanket. When you fry a squid it puffs up, some would say resembling such a bundle. Thus fried squid evokes an image of someone packing their stuff and shipping out (particularly having just been told to do so by their boss).
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Phrase: HUAI DAN
Meaning: Bad person.
Break it down: Huai is 'bad' or 'rotten'. Dan is 'egg'. So here we have a possibly universal description of a bad person as a 'rotten egg'.
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Phrase: Bizi qi waile
Translation: Bizi - nose. Qi - anger. Waile - bent.
Meaning: So angry my nose bent. In other words, the person had their nose out of joint. Now here's a saying that raises some questions: Did the Chinese give it to us, or we to them? Or did both versions spring up coincidentally? And why don't happy people ever mention that their schnoz is completely straight? Language, eh?
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Words: Chang Cheng.
Meaning: The Great Wall of China.
Please explain: The Great Wall of China is one of the most famous walls in the world, along with fellow walls Wailingand Berlin. Not only that, it's one of the most famous thingsin the world. It's not visible from space. That's a myth. If it were visible from space then any road wider than four metres would also be visible from space. Think about it. But the thing is, did you know the Chinese term for the wall doesn't actually include any mention of any "wall"? Locals call it Chang Cheng(roughly pronounced: chang chung). Chang means "long".Cheng means "city", so it's name is actually "long city". It's called this because it looks like an old city wall. But "long city wall" would be chang cheng qiang (pron: chang chung chiang). This was deemed by linguistic elders to sound too silly, so they dropped the third word. And that is how you simply a language by making it more confusing.
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Phrase: Zhanzhe maokeng bu lashi
Essence: Occupying a place but doing nothing.
Literally: Zhanzhe means to 'be on'. Maokeng is the old-fashioned word for toilet. Bu lashi means 'not pooping'.
So here we have more cultural cross-over, with the Mandarin cousin of our own western challenge: "Either poop on the pot or get off!" Was one culture's saying passed on to the other? Or is it reasonable to assume east and west independently put voice to similar frustration at having to wait unnecessarily to use the toilet? I'd say it's a fair bet this is a universal suffering.
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Phrase: Qi lu zhao ma
Translation: Qi - ride. Lu - donkey. Zhao - to look for. Ma -horse. "To ride a donkey while looking for a horse."
Meaning: Is this what happened to Richard III? Was he hankering so badly for that horse because he was actually astride a donkey? Not quite. This is the Chinese phrase for the situation when one is in a relationship with someone, but is on the lookout for something better. Like when your boyfriend/fiancee/wife/husband is a Toyota, but you fancy one day moving up to a BMW. We don't know if this is a very common state of play in China's coupling landscape. But it did become enshrined with its own phrase.
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TERM: 250 (or er bai wu in Mandarin).
BREAK IT DOWN: Possibly my favourite Chinese slang. Of someone who's a bit nuts it is said that "He's a bit two-fiddy that bloke." Now, with people so time-poor, they're just calling them "two" for short. But it's generally just accepted that two-hundred-and-fifty means you're not the sharpest tool in the box. So much so that market vendors hate selling things for that amount, because it just sounds bad. But why? Huh? Why?
Noone knows. Finally I've got to the bottom of it, using just one Chinese legends website and one Chinese teacher who could read it.
In about 450 AD, Qi Wang was ruler of a warring state called Qi Guo, around modern day Shandong province. His beloved deputy Su Qin got himself murdered. Distressed, Qi Wang cut his head off and stuck it on a stick (Su Qin's head, not his own). It was all part of a clever ruse, you see. He said he actually hated the guy, and whoever claimed responsibility for his death would get a pat on the back and 1000 units of currency (not sure what it was called then ... imagine mists of time wafting along here).
Anyway, four men came forward to announce that they'd dunnit and wanted to split the grand.
"Kill these four 250 people!" Qi Wang roared. And off came their heads as well.
And that number stuck to describe the slow of wit.
What do they say? It only takes five severed heads to form a phrase?
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WORD: pai gu
BREAK IT DOWN: pai comes from pai dui, to stand in line. Gumeans bones. Thus the ribs - be they human ones or those you order in a bar - are simply referred to as the lined up bones.
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Phrase: Ba gen hanmao bi yao cu.
Break it down: Ba gen - pluck one. Hanmao - body hair. Yao - waist. Cu - thicker.
Meaning: To show someone is a high and mighty person. "He can pluck a body hair that's thicker than your waist."
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WORD: Chui niu.
TRANSLATION: Blow the cow.
BREAK IT DOWN: Not as lewd as it sounds, and not the lewdest use of 'cow' in a phrase either. Like in neighbouring India, the cow is seen as something good here, though not sacred. Something or someone good can be just described as "very cow". If you're blowing the cow, by contrast, you think you are pretty good - talking yourself up while blowing hot air.