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歇后语 is a unique language form of Chinese.

The allegorical words are composed of two parts. The first part plays a guiding role, like a riddle, and the second part plays a role as a foil, like an answer to a riddle.

In a specific language environment, the first half is usually spoken out, and the second half is hidden.

In this way, we could understand and guess the speaker's original meaning.

歇后语 is similar to fables but much shorter.

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How to understand it easily?

歇 means rest. Thus, 歇(v.)后 (prep.)语(v.) means to speak out (the answer or what you want to say) after having a rest (for one second).

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    I've been interested in 歇後語 since my teens. There're books about 歇後語。The best way to learn 歇後語 is to read the books. I've always learnt them retrospectively, after seeing the second part. Giving me the first part of an unfamiliar 歇後語 , I doubt I could figure out the second part.
    – joehua
    Jul 24 at 19:39
  • It is not clear to me what you are asking. Are you asking for recommendations for books about / compilations of 歇后语? Jul 25 at 15:22
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歇 - means take a break, or a rest.

後 - after or behind.

語 - can mean saying

Combined, it means the spelled out phrase is the first part of a sentence (a saying, usually taken from the ancient folk stories, or popular culture of the present). The second part (hidden behind the saying) is associated with and has to work with the first part to realize the meaning. Or simply "a saying with the latter-part suspended"

Some examples are:

  • 外甥打燈籠 — 照舅 (舊)

  • 鯉魚吃水- 吞吞吐吐

  • 黃鼠狼給雞拜年 - 不懷好意

  • 電線桿上綁雞毛 — 好大的撣(膽)子

  • 老虎的屁股 — 摸不得

  • 手榴彈炸茅房 - 激起公憤(糞)

You can create examples in English, one can say "get hospitalized" to mean "be patient", or "small transactions only" to mean "no big deal".

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哑巴吃黄连──有苦说不出

The dumb eats coptis ──it's impossible to speak out

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黄连-Coptis(Coptis chinensis): a kind of herb which is usually used in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Coptis is famous for its extremely bitter flavour.

A dumb could not describe how bitter he felt after eating the bitter copits. This 歇后语 always use to imply someone who is involved in trouble with some acceptable reasons, but he/she could not tell the reasons to the public. Therefore, the public might misunderstand him/her.

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  1. 这件事谁也不知道, 他又不能对任何人提起。 这真是哑巴吃黄连,有苦说不出。

  2. 一片好心却把事情办糟了,我真是哑巴吃黄连——有苦说不出。

  3. 明明是他写错了,却说是我批错了,老师也说我的不是,我真是哑巴吃黄连----有苦说不出。

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