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In the movie 北京遇上西雅图 (~25m45s), during an argument the protagonist calls another pregnant woman a 骚货 ("slut") and they start physically fighting. A third woman tries to break them up and says:

photo of my TV

行了 行了 别别别
少说两句 少说两句 哎呀 肚子 肚子 孩子

I don't understand why she would say 少说两句 in particular, which means something like "say two fewer sentences". I think the general idea is "stop speaking uncontrollably", and HiNative posts (here and here) suggests this is the case, but it's unclear to me why we would say 少说两句.

Question: Why say 少说两句 to break up a fight?

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    It is not exactly equivalent, but there is in English a "The less said, the better" in order to avoid making a bad situation worse. There is also an old superstition that pregnant women, (as in this case), should be careful of many things, including what they say as the unborn baby "hears" everything and the words, good or bad, gets "imprinted" in his / her tender psyche. An incident 6 decades ago shows how human words of negativity could conjure up unwanted entities. My elder sister was arguing with someone and Hakka evil curses were uttered. I actually felt an evil presence in the room. – Wayne Cheah Aug 12 at 7:06
  • Interesting. I thought it would be roughly the equivalent of "Don't you dare to say one more word", a warning to shut it. – Mast Aug 13 at 7:27
  • @WayneCheah Any book to read more about this? – Sektor Aug 13 at 7:40
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    @Sektor. Besides being an old superstition, medically, here's some material - healthline.com/health/pregnancy/when-can-a-fetus-hear – Wayne Cheah Aug 13 at 7:53
  • @WayneCheah Thank you! Yes, I was specifically referring to old superstitions, beliefs, etc. – Sektor Aug 13 at 8:22
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「兩」 here is basically a synonym of 「幾」 (several). 「少說兩句」 means 「少說幾句」, that is, the argument arose out of speaking too much (more likely to drag up disagreements and past grievances), so speaking less is a way of not adding fuel to the fire.

It's not really a way of breaking up the fight, but a way of calming the situation down.

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@dROOOze has already pretty much answered this, I just want to share a reference:

Grand Ricci

少说两句
shǎo shuō liǎng jù
Ne parlez pas tant!

Google Translate renders this into English as:

Don't talk so much!

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5

少 - less

说 - say

两句 - literally means two sentences - actually means several sentences

少说两句 - say several sentences less (than what you are going to say)

n.b. In Chinese language numbers sometimes refer to a general idea of quantity to express many or few rather than a precise figure.


Thanks for the kind reminding by blackgreen. Here are two more examples below.

两 means a few rather than two:

When you are supposed to finish your speech but actually you need a bit more time, you can say "抱歉,我再多说两句", which mean "excuse me, I would like to say a few more sentences" rather than literally "two more sentences". Hope that would be helpful!

千 means many and much rather than thousand:

Another example of the general idea of "many" expressed by some big words like 百,千,万. There is a sentence in an ancient poem "桃花潭水深千尺,不及汪伦送我情". The general translation would be, the water of Peach Blossom Lake is of thousands of 尺's depth(尺 means ruler, an ancient unit of measure), but it's still not as deep as the friendship that my friend 汪伦 gives me. Here 千 doesn't mean exactly how many thousands. It's doesn't matter. It is used to express the water as well as the emotion is very "deep".

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  • "In Chinese language numbers sometimes refer to a general idea of quantity" I think this claim requires some more context and explanation in order to be useful – blackgreen Aug 12 at 14:10
  • Ok one more example. When you are supposed to finish your speech but actually you need a bit more time, you can say "抱歉,我再多说两句", which mean "excuse me, I would like to say a few more sentences" rather than literally "two more sentences". Hope that would be helpful! – smartsheep Aug 12 at 16:15
  • Another example of the general idea of "many" expressed by some big words like 百,千,万. There is a sentence in an ancient poem "桃花潭水深千尺,不及汪伦送我情". The general translation would be, the water of Peach Blossom lake is of thousands Chi(an ancient unit of measure), but it's still not as deep as the emotion that my friend 汪伦 gives me. Here 千 doesn't mean exactly how many thousands. It's doesn't matter. It is used to express the water as well as the emotion is very "deep". – smartsheep Aug 12 at 16:22
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    You can add the new examples to your answer by clicking the edit button under it – blackgreen Aug 12 at 16:25
  • On 两 vs "a few" – compare the English "a couple of", which can both mean "strictly two" and "a few". – sk29910 Aug 13 at 3:35
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少说两句 is a milder way to say 别说了 or 闭嘴(stop talking).

It can be used whenever you want people to stop speaking/arguing/complaining/etc. E. g. 行了,你少说两句吧。

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1

This phrase is similar to "take a step back" in this context. Since most of the stuff said during an argument like this would be provocative (as you can tell from the movie), asking people to "say fewer words" helps both sides to calm down, at least that's the intention.

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