5

I have seen one of my language partners use 牛气 and 很牛, but he couldn't explain it to me. The context suggested it meant something like "bullshit" or "you are kidding me", a sign or disbelief, but the dictionaries I tried only suggested literal cattle-related translations. Do they have another meaning?

  • You aren't using good dictionaries. Even free CC-CEDICT says that 牛 may mean ‘awesome’. Wiktionary also lists this meaning. As for more professional dictionaries, this meaning is listed in the Oxford Chinese Dictionary (I have it installed in my Pleco). – 米好 '-' Dec 29 '16 at 14:05
  • I am using mdbg, but it didn't explain this combination of characters. I have Pleco with some paid dictionaries, but being a lexicographer myself I can tell you the all have serious flaws, so I don't trust them. Oddly enough, this website usually offers more reliable knowledge. – MrVocabulary Dec 30 '16 at 16:20
  • Maybe you should have checked 牛 and not 很牛, as they are two separate words. 很 is a modifier used before adjectives, which sometimes means ‘very’ and sometimes doesn't really add anything. 牛 may as well be used with other modifiers, e.g. 非常牛. As for pros and cons of different dictionaries, I'm sure you'll agree that lack of example sentences is a very serious flaw of MDBG/CC-CEDICT. – 米好 '-' Jan 1 '17 at 16:02
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    I guess, I don't really have an intuition about Chinese. An even those dictionaries which do have examples are very peculiar about their sentences choises (although not useless). – MrVocabulary Jan 2 '17 at 13:11
4

Most likely, 牛氣 and 很牛 came from a slang '牛逼' (cow's genital)

Cow's genitals are huge compare to human's. Calling something 牛逼 means it is unbelievably impressive or out of worldly awesome.

  • 牛氣 (emitting aurar of unbelievable impressiveness)
  • 很牛 short for 很牛逼 (very unbelievably awesome) * this example showed 牛逼 can be simplified to just 牛

There is a common term 牛脾氣(temperament of a bull), which means " hot tempered" or "extremely stubborn" . But I don't think it is related to the term '牛氣' we are discussing here, because 牛脾氣 is not usually shortened.

Edit:

I previously stated 牛逼 meant bull's penis, but it should be cow's genital instead. (I remembered it wrong, May be I thought it make more sense to be impressed by a male genital than a female genital.) Aside from this difference, the answer remain the same -- 牛氣 and 很牛 came from a slang '牛逼'

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    Are you sure it's penis? All dictionaries I have say that (屄) means ‘cunt’, and it's often written with other characters with similar pronunciation, such as 逼, 比 and B. – 米好 '-' Dec 29 '16 at 1:46
  • Ouch. I now remember 牛逼 refers to the reproductive part of a cow. Don't know why I would remember it as bull's penis at the moment... May be it make more sense to be impressed by a penis than a female genital. Answer edited. – Tang Ho Dec 29 '16 at 2:24
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    Thanks! I also have got a feeling that 牛 is considerably less vulgar than 牛逼, am I right? Is 很牛 something like ‘awesome’ and 牛逼 something like ‘fucking awesome’? – 米好 '-' Dec 29 '16 at 11:01
  • Yes. I agree. I actually learned there's a term 很牛 before I found out 牛逼 is a profanity. A similar example: In Cantonese 我怕你有牙 is actually a cleaner version of 怕你下面有牙呀? cantonese.sheik.co.uk/phorum/read.php?8,135281 – Tang Ho Dec 29 '16 at 12:11
8

As a slang, could be used for expressing awesome.

在中国口语中的“牛”,已经被引申为一个形容词,意思为“厉害、有本事”,例如“你太牛了!”(标准:你太厉害了!)。这个词通常为褒义词,通常用于赞扬、形容某人很厉害,很有本事,很有胆量。也通常用于口语中的调侃。

So 很牛 means very awesome. 牛气 means arrogant ; self-important and also awesome.

1

"气" is a suffix which turns an adjective to a noun. But nouns ending with it often describe a quality that may offend people, called "咄咄逼人" in Chinese.

  • Oh, that's interesting. Can I ask you for a few examples? – MrVocabulary Dec 5 '17 at 15:03
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    “他耍什么牛气?不过是个小科长 (section chief) 罢了。”“过分受宠的孩子往往很娇气。” – Dong Han Dec 6 '17 at 5:14

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