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The question is quite simple, how it is possible that 德行 means two completely opposite things?

And when facing this character, how can I know what it means?

  • I thought it was 德性 that was the bad one??? ex: tieba.baidu.com/p/3023314320 – Master Sparkles Jul 12 '15 at 14:01
  • It can mean both, and to me it would make more sense if it means only moral integrity, since as explained by stonecutter it stands for 品德行为. However, in practice I saw it more in the other form, which makes it weird – Lex Jul 12 '15 at 14:39
  • maybe when it's pronounced a certain way it means the opposite of what it is supposed to? from the baidu entry it seems like delivery makes all the difference. – Master Sparkles Jul 12 '15 at 14:54
  • Stonecutter is right about the second meaning. See the postscript in my answer below. If it is spoken, the tone will tell you the difference. If it is written, you need context. Notice that in the example I found, 德行 is a stative verb: 真德行 (!) – wpt Jul 15 '15 at 8:38
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The ROC (Taiwan) 教育部國語辭 is a very useful resource, and often has good examples. Here's what it says for 德行:

1) 仁慈的行為 humane behavior: Honglou Meng: 倘或日後咱們遇見了,那時我又怎麼報你的德行。 If we meet another day, How can I repay your kind deed?

2) 諷刺或鄙視讓人產生惡感的儀態或行止 used to mock or sneer at despicable behavior or deportment: 他那副爛醉的德行,令人討厭 His drunken hijinks were disgusting.

德性 is a little more complicated, but still similar. Skipping the first meaning, it has:

1 道德品性 moral character: from Rulin Waishi 這位小姐,德性溫良,才貌出眾 The young lady has a kind and gentle nature, and is both beautiful and talented.

2 (same as 德行 2): 瞧他那副猥猥瑣瑣的德性,就知道做不了什麼大事 One look at that nerdish face and you know he'll never amount to anything.

So both words have a 'straight' use and a 'sarcastic' use. Context determines which is which.

Postscript:

A couple of other answers below note that there is another pronunciation. I've never heard this in Taiwan, but I have now found a reference in the Pinyin Chinese-English Dictionary, which says:

déxing (xing=輕聲): <方> disgusting; shameful; 那個家伙真德行. That fellow is really disgusting.

So the PY Dictionary regards this as a dialectal usage.

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  • Why is 猥琐 translated into nerdish? Not quite related to this question though – Lance Shi Jul 13 '15 at 4:50
  • 國語辭典 says 猥琐: 容貌鄙陋煩碎. a cheesy looking guy obsessed with trivia. That's me. – wpt Jul 13 '15 at 6:28
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I think it's the English analogy that's confusing. 德行 is neither 'moral integrity' or 'moral deceit', instead, it means 'moral quality' which can be used for both positive or negative contexts.

When used positively it usually accompanied with other positive words such as '德行好', while negative usages can be '德行' alone. This is pretty much like 'attitude' in English, you'd say someone has a good attitude (good is explicit), or simply 'watch your attitude' (bad is omitted).

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3

德行 can represent the combine of 品德 and 行为。 Mostly discriminate the completely opposite things using the pronunciation.

dé xíng : the normal pronunciation express moral integrity

dé xing : if 行 read "xing" the light pronunciation.express a kind of look down ,about disgusting.

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  • Can you add some detail? 品德行为 can certainly explain why it can be translated as moral integrity, but then with the light pronunciation, what does 行 means when it is translated as disgusting? – Lex Jul 12 '15 at 14:35
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    When 德行 called dé xing, it means someone's action or behavior is not good.It mostly used in oral, expressing angry or despair to some.The 行 also means 行为,which is not good. – stonecutter Jul 13 '15 at 6:51
  • +1 You're right about this; I've added a note to the answer above. – wpt Jul 15 '15 at 8:16
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In actuality, the word 德行 is seldom used in daily conversation (my experience as a native speaker of Chinese). e.g. 德行出眾 The word 德性 reads "xing" indeed. However, 德行 reads in an opposite way. When you see the word 德性 only, it means neither bad or good character. However, when it is seen in a sentence, it usually refers to bad personality traits. It is usually used in this way: 我最討厭你這副德性了! (I really dislike how you behave now.) This word usually means bad characteristics when it is used in sentences, but it can also have a positive meaning sometimes.

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