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Chinese words with no English equivalent


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How many words can you thing of in Chinese that have no direct equivalent in English? Here are a few common ones:

huanying guanglin (welcoming customers to a shop)

renao (fun, lively, exciting, etc.)

man zou (said to a person who is leaving)

yuanfen (relationship by fate or destiny)

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roddy

houtian and qiantian - can be translated as 'the day before yesterday' and 'the day after tomorrow', but it's a bit clumsy.

zenmeyang - hard to think of such a multipurpose word in English.

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roddy

Reply posted for Confucius, who's reply button doesn't work. His own fault for using AOL.

That reply function is acting up again. This is about the Chinese words with no English equivalent.

There are specific single words for older and younger siblings that do not exist in English. For example, the single word "didi" can only be translated into English by adding the extra word (younger) brother.

When Chinese talk about siblings you always know immediately whether they are older or younger, but in English if an 18 year old boy says he has a "sister" one must further inquire to find out if she's a legal jiejie or an underage meimei.

ends

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Guest jennychen
How many words can you thing of in Chinese that have no direct equivalent in English? Here are a few common ones:

huanying guanglin (welcoming customers to a shop)

renao (fun' date=' lively, exciting, etc.)

[i']man zou [/i](said to a person who is leaving)

yuanfen (relationship by fate or destiny)

huanying means welcome. guang means light, sunlight. lin means arrive.

when you open the door, more light you can see.

so the whole sentence makes sence. This phrase not only is used in welcoming customers to a shop, but someone comes to your place. I do not think it is not direct equivalent in English. You can just say "huanying" without adding guanlin all the time. In terms of the phrase " huanying guanlin", you can say welcome you to arrive here (we know the door would be opened, and more light come in at that moment) :P

renao ~ re stands for hot, nao stands for noisy. So when somewhere is crowded, you might feel hot , noisy, and you can tell the place will be lively, also people got fun!! You can use lively in many situations, just like you use renao.

man zou ~ man is slowly.. zou is walk. When you see someone is leaving, you talk to him man zou, which just means you show the hospitality to him to say take his time, it is no hurry!! I think you do sometimes talk to your friends to take his time !

yuanfen~ yuan ... if you are good at Mandarin, you can see the right part of this word means a silk. how about fen? Look at the left part of fen, that is people. So people tied by silk ..... then you get it?? Have you heard of 月下老人牽紅線 this phrase?

yuan also means chance in some terms. and chance does have something related to destiny or fate!

The above is just my personal comments, and I just try to prastice my English as well. :D

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ChouDoufu

I think something like,

"Ni chi fan le ma?"

doesn't really have an equivalent in chinese.

There are also words like

"guanxi" and "mianzi" that have to be explained extensively to get a grasp on their meaning in chinese.

then there are words like

"jiaotong" that mean a lot of things that seem unrelated in english (traffic, transportation and communications)

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Guest jennychen
I think something like' date='

"Ni chi fan le ma?"

doesn't really have an equivalent in chinese. [/quote']

I do not get what you mean. "Ni chi fan le ma?" is romanization for Mandarin and to say it in English is "have you had meal?" How does not it have equivelent to English? Ni is you, chi is have (eat), fan is meal, ma is just an expletive using in questions.

There are also words like

"guanxi" and "mianzi" that have to be explained extensively to get a grasp on their meaning in chinese.

Do not know how to explain it at the moment. :shock: I think guanxi is matter, mianzi is face. People say you afraid of losing face?? So it does have an exact English word refering to it.

"jiaotong" that mean a lot of things that seem unrelated in english (traffic, transportation and communications)

jiaotong is traffic, yun-shu is transportation, gou-tong is communications

Mandarin does have other words has the same meaning which are equivalent to English words ! :P

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ChouDoufu
actually I believe by guanxi ChouDoufu means "connection"

I realize it means connection, but a word like guanxi has a much greater meaning then the word "connection" in english. To truly explain guanxi to an english speaker you have to go into a discussion about chinese cultural norms. With that in mind I'd put it in the class of word as not having an equivalent in english. In some instances connection (or someone using connections) may constitute an accurate translation, but in others I don't think it would be sufficient.

-----------

In response to your comment below: I think that guanxi is to deep in meaning to be translated as connection. Besides, what about phrases like, "mei you guanxi" and "zhe ge you shenme guanxi?" you can't accurately translate it with the word relationship.

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channamasala

I just tested the guanxi hypothesis by asking a woman who is fluent in English (and is Chinese) what it means in English...she said "care". I said, "but it's more than that!" and gave an example - if you're going to the shou4piao4chu4 and you know the "shoupiaochuren" (she corrected me - shoupiaoyuan1 - welcome to Jennese - Jenna's bad Chinese), you can get a ticket that you could not ordinarily get, and that's guanxi too.

"Oh, I don't know," she said. "What is that in English?"

"Well, I don't really know either."

The closest I can come is "matters" or "connections". When you know someone, you've got "connections", right?

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man zou I always thought of as the Chinese equivalent to "take it easy."

I've always found wan (as in to play or have fun at something) to be kind of hard to translate. In English, we don't generally talk about adults going out to play. The English phrases are a lot more clunky and don't quite get to the point the way wan does.

I had problems recently trying to describe the word fangbian also. Normally I've heard it translated as convenient, but that doesn't exactly work, especially when you get into bu fangbian, which definitly doesn't always mean inconvenient, not exactly anyhow.

I got fired from a tutoring job by being told ta gei ni lianxi, which basically means "we'll be in touch." Lianxi can be kind of hard to translate also. It sort of means "communications," or "to be in touch," but I find that English doesn't exactly have a single word for it like lianxi

Maybe its kind of nitpicky, but for lots and lots of Chinese words, the English translation seems kind of inadequate to me. Its not that you just straight up can't translate them, its just that the translations can be kind of misleading. The more fluent I get (and I'm far from it, but still . . .), the better grasp I seem to have of what words really mean, and the less satisfied I am with the translation.

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ChouDoufu
man zou

I had problems recently trying to describe the word fangbian also. Normally I've heard it translated as convenient' date=' but that doesn't exactly work, especially when you get into [i']bu fangbian[/i], which definitly doesn't always mean inconvenient, not exactly anyhow.

And to make matters worse, "qu fangbian" means go to the bathroom.

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And to make matters worse' date=' "qu fangbian" means go to the bathroom.[/quote']

i think thats why we had the 'dabian' and 'xiaobian' issues... the greater 'fangbian' or the lesser one... :D

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  • 2 weeks later...
Guest AmrDiab

The word "suibian" 随便 is utterly untranslatable given all its different uses.

The word "mianzi" has been mentioned above (面子). In fact this word is so specific it has actually been imported into the English language as the word "mien" - look it up in the dictionary.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Channa and Jennychen I can't see what guanxi has got to do with matter(s) at all! I must be missing something.

Jenny, 你吃飯了嗎 is sometimes used in Chinese for what appears to be a greeting. I think this was what ChouDoufu meant: in this usage, it has no exact equivalent in English, apart from "Good afternoon". Of course this is really a cultural rather than a linguistic issue -- there's no problem translating the actual words!

Except of course that 飯 is itself rather an odd word. It means cooked rice, and then again it means any meal. Sorry if that is obvious; but it does serve to show that there is often no one-to-one mapping between words in different languages. In this sense, EVERY word is untranslatable.

"jiaotong is traffic, yun-shu is transportation, gou-tong is communications"

Well, what you say is true (although isn't gou-tong more for communication between people? I'm not sure). But jiaotong is certainly used in contexts where you would find all these English words. The other day I got a dinner invitation, which said that the organization would provide a 交通車 to the restaurant. I would translate that as just "coach", certainly not a "traffic vehicle".

Again, no one-to-one mapping.

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How about 嗲声嗲气? I've never gotten a good translation of that in English. The best I've found is: a childish voice used to influence parents and biys.

It just reminds me of characters I used to see in Anime. Ugh.

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I think an example of Chinese without any equivalent should be the family terms, which sometimes I think quite a trouble.

Uncle, Aunts, Cousin, Grandpa/ma, etc...

I have an uncle in Belgium who is actually "the fifth brother of my father", in Chinese, he's my "wu shushu" only.

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