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Sometimes I encounter an idiom (or 成语) and think to myself "oh, I like this 成语, maybe I should learn it". However, I'll often find out later that nobody actually uses that particular 成语, and I've wasted my time learning it.

For example, I just stumbled upon 完事大吉 (wán shì dà jí) which means something like "and there you have it" (literally "everything's finished"). It sounds like a useful 成语 that I might use, and only uses characters I've encountered before. But I have no real idea if it's worthwhile learning or not.

Question: Is there a reliable way to check if a 成语 is widely used?

  • 完事大吉 isn't frequently used from my experience, whilst 万事大吉 is. – dan Nov 12 at 4:11
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    A children's book might help. – dan Nov 12 at 4:34
  • I think you also need to pay attention to the context a 成语 is used. Some 成语s are really formal and people seldom say them in informal conversations. Yet you can still encounter them in dramas and books. – 魏小淇 Nov 12 at 16:06
  • I don't think 完事大吉 is an idiom, but rather just a word. – Alex Nov 12 at 16:33
  • I live far from China and since I don't have natives around to just go and ask them the way I check usage is using Google. I'd put a widely used 成语 (that I already know it's widely used) and see how many hits it has. And then do the same thing with a not so much used one and see how many hits. Then you can come to an approximate number of how many hits it's a good one to count as "widely used". Cheers. – Enrico Brasil Nov 12 at 16:46
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This is by no means scientific but its a fairly good metric to tell you how common a word is:

Search Engine Results Hits.


Let's take a well known idiom first and see what kind of numbers we get:

  • 本末倒置

Google hits:

3,030,000 results

Baidu hits:

19,200,000个

Here's another one:

  • 鸡飞狗跳

Google hits:

23,900,000 results

Baidu hits:

17,100,000个

So well known idioms would give us results in the millions and even in the tens of millions.


Now lets take a look at the word in question:

  • 完事大吉

Google hits:

110,000 results

Baidu hits:

986,000个

Clearly it's not a widely used as the aforementioned idioms.


Next let's look at:

News Results Hits.

News is current and it can give us a closer look at what words are still in use and how they are used.

  • 本末倒置

Google news:

47,300 results

Baidu news:

47,300 results

  • 鸡飞狗跳

Google news:

121,000 results

Baidu news:

82,700篇

  • 完事大吉

Google news:

1,110 results

Baidu news:

26,300篇


完事大吉 doesn't seem to be that common but there are plenty of news organizations that apply this term in their publications. Here are some excerpts from over the past few weeks:

办理几个案件就完事大吉

删除APP”就完事大吉了

有了成绩就完事大吉了

Another thing to look at is 完事大吉 is basically a combination of two words you already know: 完事 (finish) and 大吉 (great fortune). It probably won't take a great effort to remember this idiom and who knows maybe you'll know it the next time you run across it.

  • I might think those could be typos because you can simply place 万事大吉 in those sentences without changing their meanings. I doubt 完事大吉 even an idiom. It might be a normal phrase. – dan Nov 12 at 5:56
  • To me, 完事大吉 is more like a word play for the common idiom 万事大吉, which shows more irresponsible. – dan Nov 12 at 6:03
  • @dan That's not a typo, IMO. It may be informal. But it actually used. I'm not sure if it count as 成语, since it is hard to draw a line between 成语 from other words. – tsh Nov 12 at 7:38
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You can always check dictionary

Input the idiom in the search box here. http://www.cantonese.sheik.co.uk/scripts/wordsearch.php?level=0 Read the description to see if it is a useful term in daily conversation

For example:

力挽狂瀾

to pull strongly against a crazy tide; fig., to try hard to save a desperate crisis, overcome impossible odds, seize victory from the jaws of defeat, etc.

I can think of hundred of instances I can use this idiom

  • "Steve Jobs 力挽狂瀾,把 Apple 從破產邊緣拯救了" - Steve Jobs overcame impossible odds and saved Apple from the brink of bankruptcy."

  • "中國隊試圖力挽狂瀾,在完場前十分鐘連追三球" - "The Chinese team try to overcome impossible odds and get three goals ten minutes before the end of the game.

Since many idioms are used metaphorically, few, if any are useless in modern Chinese.

Even for idioms that are not listed in the dictionary I linked to, there are still instances that the idiom can apply to

Example:

項莊舞劍 (came from 項莊舞劍 志在沛公): Xiang zhuang sword dancing

This idiom means "perform an action with ulterior motives behind"

If you think hard enough, you can come up with a usage for this idiom.

Edit:

This pages might help: 常用成语 , 常用成語200則

  • If I use a well-known idiom e.g. 愚公移山 people will know what I mean, but if I use an uncommon 成语 people will just assume I spoke incorrectly (regardless of how useful it is). As a result, it's best to focus on learning 成语 which are both useful and widely used, but I don't know how to determine if a given 成语 is widely used. – Becky 李蓓 Nov 12 at 5:07
  • @Becky 李蓓 I added some links at the bottom, see if it helps – Tang Ho Nov 12 at 5:23
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I would say it's a vocabulary building process, sometimes it's hard to get a list, because even if you have a list, you won't know if people are still using it now and it's hard to have an exhaustive list. Some english words/usage I was told are very old fashioned, but I learnt it in school. It's the same for idioms.

One thing I think might be useful to decide if it is a common/acceptable usage is to do a search online, and see where this word appears. If it appears in some local news, it should give you high confidence that is is commonly used word currently. If it appears in only dictionary kind of website, you need more research to decide.

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