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This is a follow-up question from Other than 秘密,are there two-syllable words in Chinese where each syllable is a different character with the same pronunciation?.

What are the notable or remarkable expressions (not only 成语 but also other 习惯用法、固定词组、谚语、格言 and so on) using three or more characters, where there are two (or more) characters that are both a) different (i.e. written differently) and b) homophones - as in, same pinyin and same tone (i.e. both are first, second, third, fourth, or neutral).

I know of a few such expressions, but they may not all be very notable or remarkable.

    1. & 2. 屋乌推爱* wūwūtuīài - it’s a variant of the much more well-known chengyu 爱屋及乌 àiwūjíwū /lit. love the house and its crow (idiom); involvement with sb and everyone connected/Love me, love my dog./ Both feature the homophones 屋 / 乌.
    1. 眾志成城 众志成城 [zhong4 zhi4 cheng2 cheng2] /unity of will is an impregnable stronghold (idiom)/
    1. & 5. 狗苟蝇营 / 蝇营狗苟

What other such expressions are there?

(Edit) My examples above are all (4-character) 成语; it would be nice to have some other examples that use a different number of characters.

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    I fumbled around with ChatGPT to write awk code to extract 4-character idioms the CC-CEDICT dictionary. It gave me 82 candidates without duplicated characters (like 滔滔不绝), but most are like 石器时代 ("Stone age"). Some (not yet mentioned) chengyu are 实求, 西下, 自知之明, but I not able to determine which are(n't) chengyu in general (some are perhaps too rare to mention). Maybe these should count too: 初出茅庐, 恩, 臻于郅治, 室 难.
    – Becky 李蓓
    Jan 10 at 0:53
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    I came across 专心致志 Jan 10 at 23:22
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    How about 骄娇二气 and 意见建议 Jan 25 at 7:48
  • other examples 如无异议,可按此执行 and 中日两国,一衣带水 Jan 26 at 1:16
  • @NanningYouth, I'm not sure the first one is what I was looking for because it doesn't seem to be notable expression; it's re not 习惯用法、固定词组、谚语 or 格言. It seems to me it is just a normal sentence that uses the word 异议, which is outside the scope of this question (only two characters). The second one contains 一衣带水 which I found in a proverbs dictionary so it is indeed an example; thanks. Jan 29 at 9:19

2 Answers 2

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I know a few

眾志成城 - people are strong together

- trivial kindness

亦有 - Even thieves have their justice

死者已矣 - The dead are gone

私相授受 - Privately give and receive

仁人君子 - A benevolent gentleman

如魚得水 - like fish in the water (Cantonese)

Also in Cantonese:

蓮子年子,年生貴子;蓮藕年偶,年年佳偶 (a well-wishing in wedding)

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  • Thanks, very good examples. Sadly I currently have zero knowledge of Cantonese. Do you know of any other examples using only 3, or more than 4, characters? Jan 31 at 13:26
  • Don't you find it interesting that 中指,終止,中子,宗旨 all sound the same?
    – Tang Ho
    Jan 31 at 17:25
  • Well Tang Ho that's an interesting question. I'm not sure I understand why you're asking it. Perhaps this isn't the right place for discussion of these particular homonyms. I find all homonyms interesting in general. / The pinyin for 中子 is zhong1zi3, whereas the other three have the pinyin zhong1zhi3 so I believe that at least some native speakers won't pronounce 中子 the same as the other three. Jan 31 at 21:21
  • I got it slightly wrong, only the first two start with zhong1; the pinyin for 宗旨 is zong1zhi3. // If you're saying that some speakers pronounce all four words the same, then that is not an uninteresting bit of information but I can't see why you're bringing it up here. Feb 1 at 9:04
  • With so many homophones in Chinese, it is easier to run into a phrase with two different characters sounding the same, e.g. 非法飛髮鋪,宋仁宗送人終,
    – Tang Ho
    Feb 1 at 10:11
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Not really an "idiom", but a famous poem and diangu (典故), sort of like an idiom.

枇杷不是此琵琶,只為當年識字差。若使琵琶能結果,滿城簫管盡開花。

枇 = 琵 = pi2, 杷 = 琶 = pa2

古今譚槩《琵琶果》

莫廷韓過袁太衝家,見桌上有帖,寫「琵琶四斤」,相與大笑。適屠赤水至,而笑容未了,即問其故。屠亦笑曰:「枇杷不是此琵琶。」袁曰:「只為當年識字差。」莫曰:「若使琵琶能結果,滿城簫管盡開花。」屠賞極,遂廣為延譽。

Aside from this, a true idiom: 人是衣,马是鞍。 (This sentence has a significant number of variations, including having 装/妆 in both places, replacing 是 with 靠, 要, etc., and replacing the second part with 佛是金装, 货是包装, etc.)

Another idiom: 官不如

An idiom about two famous dishes: 肉不如肉,百菜不如白菜 (referring to 烤方猪肉 and 开水白菜)

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  • Thanks, the three idioms given are all very nice. I'd like to see more along those lines! (The poem is a bit harder to understand for me, and also I'm not very good with 繁体字. I had to cheat and use Google translate to understand it.) Jan 31 at 13:23

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