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靦 by itself means "bashful". No surprise then that 靦腆 also means "shy / bashful".

Pretty easy far?

So 靦臉 should mean "bashful face", right? Nope, it means "shameless / brazen", pretty much the opposite of what I would have expected.

[And while we're here, what's up with this "simplification" of 靦 -> 腼? Oh boy, removed an entire 3 strokes out of 16. 腼 does make more sense -- the phonetic half is on the right, rather than the left, as is more common. And I guess "flesh" (肉/月) doesn't make any less sense than "to see" (見).]


齋 -- find the radical

Quiz for the day: decompose 齋 into its radical and non-radical components.

Hint: The non-radical part is

. Can you even find that in 齋? I couldn't.


Did you even know that was a radical? I didn't.


擅長 -- shàn​cháng​

For a while I was rather despondent about ever learning the correct pronunciation for characters with multiple pronunciations. Recently, however, it's seemed much easier. Between focusing more on words rather than characters, and getting better at reading entire sentences so I understand the meaning, I can see that with some amount of further practice it won't require conscious thought to determine which reading to use.

This one, however, threw me. Since this refers to a person ("to be good at / to be expert in "), I assumed that 長 would be pronounced as zhǎng​ (as in 校長 , 董事長 , 處長 , etc).

Nope, it's cháng​.

At first I assumed it was an error on MDBG. But no, TW MOE, zdic.net, and nciku all agree.



奸 vs 姦

[i hope I don't offend anyone with this topic.]

I was absolutely shocked to see 奸詐 used in a kids comic (in Yotsuba over here). I had no idea what 奸詐 meant, but I always thought that 奸, simplified form of 姦, was a Really Bad Word , and I couldn't image how it could be used here.

So I was very surprised to find that meant something as mild as "treachery / devious / a rogue".

Looking further, I realized that 奸 itself is not just the simplified form of 姦, but is also a traditional character in its own right.

I'm flabbergasted. What prompted them to merge 姦 in with 奸?

I realize that 奸 does have slightly negative connotations. But they are really really minor relative to 姦.

[At least one question I've had was solved, why did they think that 姦 was really that much simpler than 奸. Turns out it's a case of merging a traditional character into another existing traditional character, rather than changing one traditional character into one simplified character.]


會 -- kuài​

This reading always throws me, as in 會計 (accounting).

I'm sure there is a perfectly good reason why 會 has two entirely different meanings with two entirely different pronunciations. But for the life of me I have no idea what it could be.

I think it's time I get a Chinese etymology dictionary.



Part 2 in my series of "why not all words in Chinese are obvious once you know the meaning of each individual character."

Let's look a various words with the character 獵. [All taken from MDBG]

  • 獵人 -- person who hunts
  • 獵犬 -- dog which hunts
  • 獵豹 -- cheetah (lit. leopard/panther which hunts)
  • 獵鷹 -- falcon
  • 獵槍 -- gun used in hunting

All pretty easy. 獵 means hunting, second characters says what object is doing the hunting.

Now let's look at 獵物 . 獵 again means hunting, 物 means "thing", or might mean animal (from 動物 ). So 獵物 is an animal that hunts, right?


It's an animal that is hunted.

One might argue that 獵物 still makes sense, 獵 means things related to hunting, and 物 means object. And I would not disagree. But my point is that you can not guess from just looking at 獵物 whether the meaning is things that hunt versus things are are hunted. Which is a pretty big difference.

Reminds me of the joke: If olive oil is made by pressing olives, how is baby oil made?


It's 華僑, not 華橋

skylee's post over here just made me realize that it's 華僑, not 華橋!

I've been wondering all these years what "overseas Chinese" has to do with a bridge. :o :o

I guess I just assumed it meant something like

"a bridge from China to other countries" and never gave it more thought....


手續 -- why?

It's commonly said [1] that one aspect of Chinese that is easy to learn is because the meaning of most words are "obvious" once you know the meaning of each individual character.

I disagree, but that is the topic of another post.

Back to the topic, anyone care to help me understand why 手續 means "formalities / procedures"? "手" by itself means hand (or, by extension, someone that does something), and "續" means "continue / replenish". I realize in China it seems that the paperwork continues to keep your hand busy, but that's hardly a derivation <_<

[1] No reference, I'm just going to say it's true because I say so.



Me: [looking at some weird Asian food my wife bought] What is "red "flour"

Wife: what?

Me: hong mian. Red flour.

Wife: [looking at the package] What do you think the second character is?

Me: mian. "flour" or "bread"

Wife: That's not 麵.

Me: Oh. [Looks closely.] So it's not. What is "red" "something-that-isn't-mian"

Wife: I don't know. [We look at the translation of the ingredient list.] What is Anka?

Me: I don't know.

Even wikipedia doesn't have an entry for it. Googling, I find out that it is

a strain of mold called Monascus anka and is traditionally added to steamed rice that is left to ferment. After it is dried, the end product, commonly known as anka or “red rice,” has been popularly used as a spice to give sweetness and aroma to foods, as well as to add a red color.

Not to make me worried, but the second hit on google for this are a warning out of Taiwan about "Toxic Anka". On the good side, the first hit is a scientific paper saying it might be used to used to suppress hypertriglyceridemia and hyperlipidemia.


XY 的 X (or XY 的 Y)

No chromosomes involved here. Just the pattern used in Chinese when trying to describe orally which character I mean given the large number of heterographs for some sounds.

For example, "白色的白", when giving my Chinese family name.

I say "try", as I am usually unsuccessful. I'm not sure why this is. I'm hoping it is not due to my pronunciation being that bad, although I fear it might be the case. Rather, I've noticed that there are certain 'XY' that Chinese typically use for a given 'X'. Since I don't know this "secret pattern", I give some other 'XY', which leads to blank stares, and I eventually try to write it.


Find the radical in 芻

This is one of those things about Chinese that is so painfully obvious when someone points it out to me, but I doubt I could have figured it out on my own. I hope that with more and more practice there will be fewer and fewer of them.

MDBG lists the radical as 艸


卉 is a traditional character

I came across 卉 (as in 花卉) the other day for the first time (that I remember). Based on how it looked, I was 100% sure that it was a simplified character, a bad mangling of a perfectly good looking traditional character. Similar to what happened to 農 -> 农, 發 -> 发, 憶 ->忆 , 藝 ->艺 , 衛 -> 卫 , etc.

Looked it up; nope, it's traditional!

Now that I noticed the character, I keep seeing it as part of other characters. It's the upper right of 噴 (as in 噴嚏), for example.

Nothing important, I guess. I thought I've gotten pretty good at guessing which characters are traditional and which are simplified, but this shows I still have more to learn.


Why the 海 in 海报

"海" means oceans or seas, "报" means to announce.

So why does 海报 mean "poster / playbill / notice"?

What does 海 bring to the party?


Looking up 鯛

I had a need to look up "鯛", yet another character I had never seen before. [Due to reading Yotsuba, if you must know.]

MDBG defines it as "porgy / pagrus major".

I have no idea what a "porgy" is. I assume it's a type of fish, but I knew that before I looked it up.

Fortunately, MDBG has this cool feature where you can click on a word in the definition, and it brings you to a dictionary.

There it is defined as "a sparid food fish, Pagrus pagrus, found in the Mediterranean and off the Atlantic coasts of Europe and America."

I have no idea what a sparid is. I still assume it is a type of fish, but I have yet to learn anything new.

Clicking on "sparid" there tells me that it is "any of numerous fishes of the family Sparidae, chiefly inhabiting tropical and subtropical seas, comprising the porgies, the scups, etc."

There's "porgy" again. But what is a scup? Yes yes, I know, it's a type of fish.

Clicking on "scups" brings me to "a sparid food fish, Stenotomus chrysops, found along the Atlantic coast of the U.S., having a compressed body and high back."

I give up.



Was having dinner at our local all-you-can-eat American-Chinese buffet place last night, and one of the dishes in the buffet was 芥兰几.

Fortunately they had the English there as well, or I'm not sure I could have figured out what they were serving. Is this a typo, or is this common way of writing it?

In case you can't figure it out, the English was

Broccoli Chicken. I assume the 几 was a write-o for 鸡.


汁 is pronounced zhī

I doubt this is news to you. But it is news to me.

For years I've been pronouncing it jì, most likely influenced by 计. And then it appears on my ZDT flashcard list. I type in the pinyin, and get it wrong. Sure that the word list is wrong, I look further. Wow, MDBG has it wrong too :-) After searching two additional sites, I finally had to admit that I've had it wrong all these years.

And I've been wondering why I have such a hard time ordering fruit juice in China :P

As an aside, over on this thread http://www.chinese-forums.com/index.php?/topic/27660-learning-vocabulary-software/ there was a bit of a discussion about the benefit of having your flashcard program require you to type in pinyin, as opposed to just clicking on whether you know it. This is one of those reasons. If I hadn't needed to type it in, I probably would have have just clicked on "I know this well" without checking too closely and moved on.....


谚语: There's a word for it

I‘ve been vaguely aware that I misuse the term "成语" a bit. It seems that for many, a 成语 refers only to a classically derived, 4 or 8 character, saying. So other "fixed phrases" are not, strictly speaking, a "成语".

Someone was explaining "跳跳槽槽" (meaning "to change jobs frequently") to me, and was looking for the right (English) word to describe the part of speech it was. I suggested 成语. Although he was a tad impressed that I knew that word (ah, the joys of low expectations....), he didn't think it was right, and said 谚语 was better.

MDBG defines a 谚语 as "proverb". Which doesn't seem quite right. "跳跳槽槽", to me, is not really a "proverb". So "set expression" might be a better translation, or "common phrase".

But at least now I have another word I can use to describe Chinese.


灬 is called 四點水!

I'm starting to think that Chinese do this on purpose, just because Chinese isn't hard enough to learn on its own.....

灬 is the fire radical, 火, when on the bottom. See, four dots in 灬, four strokes in 火. Not very hard.

I was trying to describe a character to someone, and tried to say it had the fire radical on the bottom, so I said "下面有火". He looked confused, so I wrote it for him, and then he laughed and said that they call it "四點水"!

So why, when describing it, do they call it "four dot water"? Would calling it 四点火 really be that hard?


qingsheng: my rule

qingsheng is currently, by far, the most annoying thing to me about learning Mandarin. I do much better by memorizing rules, and there really isn't a set rule for when qingsheng occurs. [Which, BTW, according to Wikipedia is why qingsheng is not considered a type of tone sandhi.]

The closest thing to a rule I have that if the second character is there to make it a bisyllabic word, and doesn't really add anything to the meaning, it's likely to be qingsheng.

I know, pretty weak rule.

In particular, the following are qingsheng

  • Anything with 子, of course. Except when the 子 refers to something small or something related to a child, such as 電子 and 親子. But not 兒子 or 孩子, because in those cases the first character is the one that means child.
  • Most things with 头, e.g. 木头, 馒头, 罐头. Although things related to heads, e.g. 接頭, are not.
  • And words in which the first character pretty much means exactly the same as the word, e.g. 坏处, 情形

It's not perfect, but it does cover a lot of the cases, and allows me to focus on memorizing the exceptions.

Last year the most annoying thing to me about learning Mandarin was characters with multiple pronunciations. That bothers me less now, so I guess that's a sign of progress! I think what bothers me most about qingsheng is a feeling of hopelessness, that I will never learn all the cases. I used to feel that way about characters with multiple pronunciation, but I think now that by memorizing words, rather than characters, and improving my reading comprehension, it will all make sense. Except for truly annoying cases like 薄.


My brain: zero. 都/部 : one

For some reason, two months ago my brain suddenly refused to distinguish between 都 and 部. I guess they do look somewhat similar -- city/area radical on the right, and left is some lines on top with a box-ish thing in the bottom. But I never had issues with them before.

I think it started when I realized that 都 has an alternative meaning and pronunciation than the one we are all taught in first-year Chinese. Upon learning that, so much more made sense. Now I know why Kyoto is written "京都"; "capital all" makes no sense at all. I should have realized it earlier as well with 成都, but it never clicked.

But now that I know that, with how close the pronunciations are (du1 vs bu4), my brain decided they are too close to distinguish.

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