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While talking about probability with mainland Chinese students I asked what they say for heads and tails on a Chinese coin. I was tossing a one Yuan coin, and they decided I could say in English "flower" and "number." Okay. I did not want to go on talking about language so I did not ask what they actually say in Chinese. But when I search on line I do not find anything like this. I mostly find 正面 and 反面, which are also what Google Translate offers.

I wonder if 正面 and 反面 are just the technically correct expressions, like "obverse" and "reverse" in English, which most people never say.

Are there more common mainland expressions for the sides of a coin?

  • 正面 and 反面 are OK. – fefe May 29 '18 at 1:59
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    In Cantonese, "Head" is "公" (as in 公仔= figure) and "tails" is "字" (writing). – Tang Ho May 29 '18 at 2:05
  • Yes, before the students settled on "number" for tails, some had suggested "character." These are Beijing students. – Colin McLarty May 29 '18 at 2:20
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Chinese use 正反 more than US people use obverse/reverse.

Other words are 花/字, but the side is controversial.

The side of 中华人民共和国 is 正面, but many many people think 1元 is 正面, this would be more confused if you use 字/花. Which side is 字, is it 正面? enter image description here

China bank realized this problem, the new coin:

enter image description here

Now 中国人民银行and 1 元 are on the same side, that is 正面, in this case 字 is 正面, 花 is 反面.

In some dialect, people use 字/背.

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正面 and 反面 is the technical term for it I think.

Colloquially, we use 字(the side with number) and 面(the side with head). In northeast, it's been erhua and it becomes 字儿 and 面儿. The interesting part is 面儿 is pronounced as mer4, but mianr4 is also correct I think.

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    I live in northeast, I almost forgot that, old people call 面 as "闷儿". – Jacob May 29 '18 at 3:25
  • @Jacob yeah, I would not say it in the southern area. :) – dan May 29 '18 at 4:52
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擲毫 擲硬幣 擲銅板 https://zh.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E6%93%B2%E7%A1%AC%E5%B9%A3

擲毫或擲硬幣、擲銅板是一種把硬幣彈到空中,透過它落下來後所顯示的結果(落下來後是正面向上還是反面向上),來解決事情的一種方法。

According to this Wiki entry, 正面 and 反面 is what Chinese call "head and tails" of a coin.

正面 of a coin is the one side with a figure head, and the side without a figure head is 反面

(For old Chinese coin, the 正面 is the one side with engraving, and 反面 had nothing on it)

In Cantonese, "Head" is "公" (as in 公仔= figure) and "tails" is "字" (writing).

  • Yes I am sure coin experts in China call the two sides of the coin 正面 and 反面. The US Wikipedia says that in English the sides are usually called "obverse, and reverse." But that is only true when you speak about coin experts in the US. Ordinary US people do not know the term "obverse." Ordinary US people always call the two sides "heads and tails." Maybe also in Beijing ordinary people call the "tails" "字." I will see the students again this evening and ask some of them before class begins. – Colin McLarty May 29 '18 at 2:38

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