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This Chinese phrase 琴酒相壽 occurs in some calligraphy given to a colleague. What does this mean in English? I've tried basic Google searches and Google translator. I see other examples of the calligraphy but no explanation.

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This is the same as 弹琴敬酒 为你祝寿, which means something like "playing the qin and drinking wine, to celebrate a loyal friend's birthday". Note that playing the qin is considered a very high-class and cultured activity in ancient China, as well as being one of the four main skills any learned person must acquire---“琴棋书画”, i.e. playing the qin, playing qi (Chinese chess), calligraphy, and painting. So the phrase 琴酒相寿 has a certain poetic or picturesque feeling to it beyond the meaning of the words themselves.

  • Thanks. This is very useful. – Jayarava Oct 21 '19 at 9:05
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There is a bit of wordplay in 琴酒相壽. The tricky part is 壽, which sounds the same as 授 (to give). 琴 is an instrument. 酒 is alcohol. 相 here denotes 表示一方对另一方的动作(one applies an action upon another). Both 琴 and 酒 are used to toast one's birthday.

琴酒相授 literally means to give 酒 and 琴. By replacing 授 as 壽, it implies the purpose why they give 琴 and 酒. It's because they want to celebrate their 壽(birthday).

So, 琴酒相壽, as a whole, roughly means play 琴 and give 酒 to celebrate one's birthday.

  • it’s more odd to add the character “授” for explanation :( – 水巷孑蠻 Oct 22 '19 at 1:41
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the phrase "琴酒相壽" is very odd, imo.

"相" can only be interpreted as mutually (互相). in most scenarios, when there's only one host (the "birthday-er"), participants of the event would not have the same birthday as the host. so, even they play the "琴", and drunk, for celebrating the host's birthday, it's one way, not mutually.

only in the situations of

  • twins, triplets, or whom were born on the same day
  • ceremony that people with the same age, "birth-year" ("同甲", or "同庚") celebrate together

then, one of the twins, or one of the participants of the latter; he/she uses this phrase for celebrating others' birthday, it's valid and truthful.

otherwise, i would not recommend this one for celebrate someone's longevity.

edited.

considering several 4 characters idioms, with 1st, 2nd character as noun, 3rd one is "相":

  • 萍水相逢
  • 名實相符
  • 骨肉相連
  • 首尾相應
  • 鷸蚌相爭

isn't it clear, the usage of "相" as mutually?

that the reason why i say "相壽" is odd.

anyway, have fun :)

  • You're taking the phrase way too literally, imo. – YiFan Oct 21 '19 at 20:06
  • really, how do you interpret "相"? – 水巷孑蠻 Oct 21 '19 at 21:09
  • The same way, of course. But the point of the phrase is not in the literal meaning of the words; it's a bit idiomatic, if you will. – YiFan Oct 21 '19 at 21:18
  • 相 in the context should not be interpreted as 互相. It should be 表示一方对另一方的动作, as in 好言相劝. – dan Oct 21 '19 at 23:59

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