I asked this earlier, which talked about:

  • Giraffe 長頸鹿:long neck deer

What is still not clear to me was discussed a little in the comments, but I still don't get it. How do you say "long neck deer" and not mean giraffe? In English you might say "the black bear" as a casual description of a black-colored bear, or "the Black Bear" to mean the formal black bear species. But you are still allowed to say "black bear" when talking casually about black-colored bears.

Meanwhile, the comments seem to suggest you are not allowed to say "long neck deer 長頸鹿" in a casual way, and mean some long necked deer over there.

enter image description here

Clearly this is not a giraffe, but it is a long necked deer. So how can we say "long neck deer", but not mean Giraffe?

Please include English transcriptions/glosses for any Chinese script you include as I'm not a Chinese expert but would really like to understand. Maybe even pinyin if possible.

Comments said:

since 长颈鹿 is specifically the name for giraffe, no reasonable people will use it to mean deer unless they are trying to mislead on purpose.

And also:

A deer that has a long neck is a phrase that translated into Chinese would be 長頸的鹿, e.g. "長頸的鹿不單只有長頸的鹿" ( deers that have long necks are not just giraffes"

Does this mean that you must be extremely verbose to be descriptive in a casual way? What if a bunch of people were talking about "yellow-bellied frogs" casually, and they used "黄腹蛙 Huáng fù wā" (I pulled from google translate). Well then it turns out there was an actual scientific term for 黄腹蛙, does their usage now not make sense or is otherwise invalid?

Basically, how can you use the same descriptive terminology that is used in a formal name, but in a casual way? Or if not the same, then close to the same? What are the basic rules?

Like I said, in English you can talk about "blue whales" and have it mean any blue colored whale. But you can also talk about the formal scientific "Blue Whale" and no harm no foul. How do you do this similar sort of thing (or close to it) in Chinese?

  • 4
    I don't understand what the problem is, and why you're asking these kinds of questions on Chinese StackExchange. Perhaps you should first figure out whether there's any confusion in English if you throw around words like "bluebottle", "skyscraper", or "anteater" in the wrong context, and how verbose your clarification or description is when you have to specify that, no, you actually mean "a blue coloured bottle" or "a device/machine which is so powerful that it penetrates the clouds" or "a person that loves eating ants".
    – dROOOze
    Commented Oct 23, 2022 at 8:17
  • 2
    The name "giraffe" has its earliest known origins in the Arabic word zarāfah (زرافة), perhaps borrowed from the animal's Somali name geri. The Arab name is translated as "fast-walker" --- Wikipedia. So, I suppose we now need to ask how do we know that when an Arab says "fast-walker" when translating his native word for "giraffe", that he meant giraffe, the animal, and not a "fast walking prostitute"? Commented Oct 23, 2022 at 12:00
  • 鹿Deer (lù) is a different concept from English. Commented Oct 24, 2022 at 2:08
  • 2
    Quote:- "鹿Deer (lù) is a different concept from English" Care to elaborate? Commented Oct 24, 2022 at 2:37
  • 2
    @Lance -- I could certainly see your "problem", (i.e. a translation of a Chinese word or phrase may seem "confusing", and even "frustrating"). I get that, but certain words in Chinese,"长颈鹿", for example, means nothing but a giraffe to every native speaker, and to keep arguing that being translated as "long neck deer" could mean any deer with a long neck, and not necessarily a giraffe, is being pedantic, and if you "...still don't get it", by now, then the problem is not with the Chinese language, (or when translated into English), but your problem of not seeing the forest for the trees. Commented Oct 24, 2022 at 9:05

3 Answers 3


To describe the same thing in a casual way, I usually separate the word into the adjective part and the noun part. Notice that what you mentioned as an example is the way to merge the adjective and the noun into a specified word; therefore, a simple way to describe it in a formal noun phrase is to divide the word.

To elaborate, as Tang Ho said, we might say 青蛇 (green snake) -> 青色的蛇 (snake with green color).

Another idea is to paraphrase the word, such as changing "neck (頸部)" into another word (脖子). But I am not very expert in English, so I don't have an exact example.

Hope this helps!


I said it before, you have to learn them one by one. Look it up in the dictionary every time you think there might be a chance that it is an existing compound word

Usually, 的 in "XX的YY" gives away the fact that it is not a compound word, on the other hand, XXYY is most likely one, for example, 大角羊 is most likely a compound word because if it is just sheep with big horns, you will use 大角的羊 instead. Look up 大角羊 and you'll find Bighorn Sheep

Another example:

There are many kinds of fish that are capable of eating humans, we would call these fish 食人的魚 (man-eating fish), but when you see the term 食人魚, you should look it up to see if it is a specific translation of an English noun, The result is yes, 食人魚 is Piranha

More examples:

長毛象 (mammoth) cannot be called 長毛的大象

綠蛙 (green frog) cannot be called 綠色青蛙

河馬 (hippopotamus) cannot be called 河中的馬

  • This still doesn't really answer the question, but @YuChieh's does so that helps. Or maybe it does but without the English gloss I can't tell.
    – Lance
    Commented Oct 25, 2022 at 21:10

Look at the long neck on that deer!

  • 2
    Yes, looking at this photo, a native speaker would never, ever says, 那头长颈鹿看起来好瘦啊! Commented Oct 23, 2022 at 12:08

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