For example, the earthly branches represent divisions of time and also directions.

Are these multiple meanings used in puns? The individual branches can also have separate meanings from the branch system itself. For example, 丑 can also mean clown.

Do these second set of non-branch meanings get mixed or played off or punned with the branch meanings? (e.g. The year of the Ox being called the year of the clown, it being clown o'clock etc.)

  • hummm, as far as I know, NO. Because it isn't fun at all. Feb 9, 2020 at 0:44
  • As far as year-naming goes, we generally don't use just the earthly branch for the year. The system is the sexagenary cycle, where both the heavenly stem and earthly branch is used, so you'd have e.g. 丁丑年 and not just 丑年.
    – dROOOze
    Feb 9, 2020 at 4:49

1 Answer 1


丑 can also mean clown

No, 丑 usually means ugly in Simplified Chinese. 小丑 means clown.

We usually don't say 丑年. We say 牛年.

I guess you could play with puns if you try to, but in a normal conversation people won't mix the meanings.

  • For what it's worth, Perapera Chinese Popup Dictionary browser plugin lists "clown" as the primary meaning of "丑", and The Times New Chinese English Dictionary lists "clown character in Beijing opera" as its secondary meaning. Feb 13, 2020 at 16:10
  • @RayButterworth Indeed, that's why I edited it to specifically say "Simplified Chinese". Many people accustomed to Simplified Chinese are unaware that their choice of characters are actually highly unorthodox and make little sense in the Chinese writing system as a whole.
    – dROOOze
    Feb 14, 2020 at 7:59

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.