Questions concerned comprehension and understanding the finer aspects of individual words or phrases, with or without a context in which they are expressed.

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21
votes
3answers
11k views

What is the exact meaning of 吃豆腐, and where does the expression come from?

I'm not talking about eating tofu, but the expression that means something more like taking advantage of someone. What exactly does 吃豆腐 mean, and where does this expression come from?
19
votes
2answers
509 views

Why use 非 and 亚 for continent names?

Why was 非 chosen for 非洲 (Africa) and 亚 chosen for 亚洲 (Asia)? I can't find a particular reason to use these characters.
16
votes
9answers
6k views

How offensive is 他妈的?

How offensive is the expression 他妈的? What is an English expression with a similar degree of offensiveness? In what situations is this expression appropriate / not appropriate?
13
votes
4answers
4k views

What is the difference between 哈哈, 呵呵, 嘻嘻, and 嘿嘿?

I always see 哈哈, 呵呵, 嘻嘻, and 嘿嘿 in WeChat, QQ, etc, but I don't really understand the subtle differences between them and when to use them appropriately, especially 呵呵. I use 呵呵 myself now, but I'm ...
13
votes
8answers
26k views

Special meanings applied to numbers 0 - 10

From what I understand: 4 or 四 means death 8 is similar to 发 as in 发财 9 is somehow related to the emporer or is the emporer's number Can someone please provide the meanings (if they exist) for ...
13
votes
4answers
1k views

Are 明白 and 懂 synonymous?

Are 明白 and 懂 synonymous? If not, could anyone please elaborate on the difference along with some examples of usage?
12
votes
8answers
933 views

Sheep or goat? 一只羊跑过来

In the sentence: 一只羊跑过来 Would a Chinese person typically assume this is a goat or a sheep?
12
votes
6answers
1k views

What is the difference between 通常,经常,and 常常?

What is the difference between 通常,经常,and 常常? I hear them a lot in conversational Chinese, but I can't pick out the difference in meaning. The dictionaries I've checked don't seem to agree on their ...
11
votes
1answer
473 views

How come 東/东 has a second meaning 'owner/master' or 'host'?

Examples include 房东 or 财东 and 东道, respectively. What is the etymology behind this additional meaning?
10
votes
6answers
8k views

What's the meaning of 缘分 in English?

I asked a similar question on English Language & Usage site, but no one seems to come up with a good answer for me. I have decided to give our Chinese site a try. Bonus: how will you describe the ...
9
votes
5answers
1k views

A Complex Chinese Character

I randomly saw this character on the blog a while ago and saved a image of it as shown below. Is this even a character? If so, what does it mean? When is it used? What was the origin of it? How do ...
9
votes
6answers
827 views

How gender specific in writing is the character 他

A couple of years ago I wrote this comment below an answer: On mainland China 他 is used for both male and female. I've only seen 她 used as a stylistic thing for advertising and some old formal ...
9
votes
5answers
1k views

Why do people say “man dianer a” when you leave their shop?

When you leave a shop, you often hear the shopkeeper saying something like "man dianer a", which sounds like 慢点儿阿 (something parents say to their kids to get them to walk more slowly [even if they ...
9
votes
5answers
3k views

Why does the word 萌 mean “cute”?

A friend of mine said in a photo of me, my eyes looked very 萌(meng2). 你的眼睛很萌 My dictionary defines 萌 as; 萌 méng (动) sprout; bud; germinate But apparently in this context it means ...
9
votes
1answer
259 views

Why 息 means news?

Why 息 means news? Etymology suggest it means "rest" - "From nose indicating breath and also phonetic 自 and heart or chest 心. Meaning to rest." sorce: ...
9
votes
2answers
666 views

Is there a literal meaning of 对不起?

对不起 is one of the first phrases any student learns. We learn it as a set phrase, and don't question why it has this meaning. But we also learn the phrases; 听得懂 - "hear and understand" 听不懂 - ...
9
votes
4answers
344 views

Difference between 对 and 双

For a pair of rabbits there is: 一对兔 yī duì tù And for a pair of shoes there is: 一双鞋 yī shuāng xié And for twins there is: 双胞胎 shuāngbāotāi How can I be sure when to use 对 and when to ...
9
votes
2answers
654 views

Why does 有机 as in 有机食品 mean organic?

有 and 机 are some of the first characters we learn in Chinese, but only recently did I find out that they mean "organic" when put together. Can anyone explain why this is?
9
votes
2answers
262 views

What is the difference between 有名,著名 and 闻名?

We know 名 means name or famous, what is the subtle difference between 有名,著名 and 闻名? Thanks!
8
votes
4answers
868 views

What does the expression “孤男寡女” mean?

What does the expression "孤男寡女" (gū nán guǎ nǚ) mean, exactly? Does it have inherently negative connotations? As an aside, why does Google translate it as "Needing"?
8
votes
7answers
1k views

Why do native speakers often say a character has “no meaning”?

Many times I will know all the characters in a name but one & I'll ask what that one character means. 9 times out of 10 the response is, "That character has no meaning". While it might be true ...
8
votes
7answers
13k views

Does 危机 really mean both crisis and opportunity?

A lot of people, mostly those who haven't studied Chinese, like to claim something along the lines of "In Chinese, the word for crisis 危机, also bears the meaning of opportunity." This is usually ...
8
votes
4answers
420 views

中东 - “Middle East” or “Eastern China”?

The dictionary lists both Middle East and Eastern China for 中东. Is one of these meanings more common? What would be a native speaker's first impression of the word? Does the meaning vary from ...
8
votes
7answers
352 views

自习 vs 自学: what's the difference?

What's the difference among: 自习 (Zì xí) 自学 (Zì xué) They should be something like "to study by oneself", "to study on one’s own", but still, I don't get the difference. Thanks!
8
votes
7answers
777 views

Two terms for “According to” - What are the differences between 根据 and 按照?

根据 and 按照 can both function as a preposition that can be translated as according to. I imagine that the translation does not capture the individual character of each term. What nuances do the two ...
8
votes
7answers
433 views

早已 and 早就: what's the difference?

To my understanding, both hold the meaning of "already happened long ago". What are the nuances though? Are they interchangeable? Examples: 他早已打定主意了。 (He made up his mind long ago.) 他早就搬走了。 (He ...
8
votes
5answers
680 views

What is the meaning of 真是的

What is a meaning of 真是的. I heard for many times in context something like 你真是的! And yet I have doubts about proper meaning of this expression.
8
votes
2answers
438 views

Specifics of the idiom “四海一家”

There are several sayings and idioms similar to 四海一家 which reference "四海". Does the 四海 actually refer to 4 specific oceans such as the Indian, Pacific etc. or is it more of a metaphor for all of the ...
8
votes
2answers
262 views

Does “坊” also mean “square”, “plaza”, “piazza” like “广场”?

Where I am in Kunming there is a square that seems to go by two names: 金碧广场, Jīn bì guǎngchǎng, "Golden Square" 金马碧鸡坊, Jīnmǎ bì jī fang, "Golden Horse and Green Rooster Square" When I look ...
8
votes
1answer
185 views

How to say the term “招” and “式” in English?

It's used as a classifier, like this: "亢龙有悔"是"降龙十八掌"中的*一招*. and *一招一式*他都记得清清楚楚. So how to say it in English?
8
votes
1answer
282 views

Correct usage for 跟。。。过不去

This question has two parts: What's the precise meaning of this expression? What is the correct usage? Question (1) I understand it to mean that the person referred to (eg, 跟她过不去) is uncomfortable ...
7
votes
10answers
2k views

What does 非也 mean?

What does 非也 mean? I heard it used here: Is this XXX? 非也! It's YYY! Does it mean "Oh my god!" or something? Thank you very much for your help!
7
votes
6answers
456 views

What is the meaning of 相声?

Today I read a blog post talking about a Canadian guy called Mark Rowswell (aka 大山) that appears on Chinese TV shows and who is able to do 相声. This 相声 is referred to as "the art of language". What ...
7
votes
4answers
878 views

What does 反动 mean?

The dictionary definition of 反动 means reactionary, and in the political sense it can also mean someone who is very conservative, as opposed to progressive. However, it seems that this word is being ...
7
votes
3answers
510 views

How to translate “很不起眼儿” in English

What's the best (传神) translation of "很不起眼儿" in English? 例句: 不认识他的人觉得他很不起眼儿,认识他的人觉得他很优秀。 辨析: A more formal term that related to "很不起眼儿" is "其貌不扬", but "其貌不扬" will normally be "很不起眼儿", yet ...
7
votes
3answers
502 views

What's the main difference between 为 and 是?

It seems like both 为 and 是 mean "to be". In which cases is one used but not the other? Is it something like the difference between "estar" and "ser" in Spanish and Portuguese? (In the sense that one ...
7
votes
2answers
164 views

他在工厂住了半年/living in factories

This was an example sentence in Practical Chinese Reader 31. Do people actually live in factories, or is there some cultural context I'm missing? In previous chapters, people are constantly visiting ...
7
votes
4answers
270 views

What does “作” mean in this context?

I was listening and they said stuff like 大作 and 小作。 My friend thinks it's an adjective and it can be used as so: 一个很作的女孩子。
7
votes
2answers
381 views

What is the difference between these two words 叫做 and 叫作?

What is the difference between these two words 叫做 and 叫作? The dictionary definition is quite similar and when I use this term in conversation I am unaware of which character combination I am using.
7
votes
2answers
390 views

What is the difference between 依然 and 仍然?

What is the difference between 依然 and 仍然?
7
votes
2answers
201 views

“I will,” “I can,” “I will (probably)” A fundamental problem with 會

I've always been a little wary of talking about the future in Chinese using the character 會, my early teachers made it ambiguous or demanded that I use a 的 at the end of every 會 sentence, but then ...
7
votes
1answer
341 views

What is the difference between 傻瓜 and 笨蛋?

May sound like a silly question, but is there a difference between 傻瓜 and 笨蛋?
7
votes
1answer
214 views

“惡” vs “噩” vs “厄”

I have seen these three characters forming the "same" words (I cannot think of a better way to phrase this), such as 惡夢 vs 噩夢 and 惡運 vs 噩運 vs 厄運 As I tried googling for the difference, I ...
7
votes
3answers
266 views

和 并 与 及 跟 而 同 difference?

I have read about connectives 和 并 与 及 and asked some questions about them but still I'm somewhat not satisfied with my understanding. Let me summarize my knowledge: 1. 与 connects: words (old ...
6
votes
5answers
552 views

What does 出来 mean in 真看不出来你是外国人?

What does 出来 mean in this sentence? 真看不出来你是外国人 Doesn't 出来 mean "come out of ..."?
6
votes
4answers
781 views

Differences between 饭,菜, 食 and 餐

I was always wondering, what is the difference between 饭,菜, 食 and 餐 . Basically all mean food. But I know those are sometimes used in a diffetent curcimstances. What is then the most common word for ...
6
votes
6answers
852 views

Can 知道 be used in the sense of “to know someone”?

While watching a video with Chinese subtitles on a Chinese website, I came across this dialogue: Approximate English gloss (leaving out unnecessary details): A: You're XXX, right? B: So you ...
6
votes
6answers
772 views

犬子: who's the dog?

犬子 (literally, dog + son) is an archaic, self-depreciatory term to refer to your son (occasionally it's used to insult other people's sons). This answer raises a question though; who is the dog ...
6
votes
5answers
484 views

Do Westerners 上火?

Sometimes people ask me how to say 上火 in English and I tell them I don't know. I tell them people don't really have the concept of 上火 in America, let alone the term. So how would you succinctly ...
6
votes
6answers
374 views

Using 老头 / 老头子 when speaking to others

I'm trying to get some clarification on whether or not it is impolite to use 老头 / 老头子 when speaking outside a group of friends when referring to a third party. From my understanding 老头 is quite ...