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Dawei3

Most common word to refer to your wife?

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Dawei3

I’ve had very different responses to “what is the best word for me to use to refer to my wife when I’m talking about her to others?”  

 

My lessons taught  “太太”,so I often use it.  However, a few people from Jilin said never to use 太太;that it is only used for a wife whose family is rich and powerful (we’re not) or that it is too formal. They said “use 妻子.”

 

However, most people I asked said 太太 is the best. Since I had been told 太太 is wrong, I pushed back and asked “isn’t it too formal?” and they said “no.” That in  very casual situations you can use 老婆, but 太太 is usually the best.  Those suggesting 太太 as the most common were from 太原,郑州,福建,济南 (quite a few different places). 

 

Any ideas on the best word to use when I’m talking to someone I just met?  Also, is the difference in terminology a regional thing or is it just by chance that those from Jilin said 太太 is inappropriate? (i.e., maybe others from Jilin think differently). 

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ZhangKaiRong

My girlfriend is also from Dongbei (well, not Jilin, but from Harbin), and when she's talking about the wives of her colleagues/friends with me or friends/colleagues, she always uses 老婆. She laughed when I first used 太太, which seems to be a little bit 古老, as she said.

妻子 should be okay a good middle way which is not too formal and not too informal.

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abcdefg
12 hours ago, ZhangKaiRong said:

妻子 should be okay a good middle way which is not too formal and not too informal.

 

Agree with ZKR about that. 

 

From what I've seen/heard around here (Yunnan,) in addition to the "formal-informal" axis, there is a social class difference. 太太 gets a laugh because it's 古老 and formal, and a little high tone, sometimes pretentiously so, as in "Our noble leader's esteemed wife." 老公 and 老婆 seem more to be often used by ordinary, working class people.  

 

Of course, I'm a foreigner, and the subtleties of things like that are always a stretch. When you watch TV comedy skits, however, you can get a sense for what is appropriate when. A good comedian exploits the nuances of word choice to make situations funny. 

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Tomsima

off the top of my head:

 

老婆 - normal, colloquial, usually with familiar people

妻子 - normal, usually in more formal situations, although is fine in normal conversation too

太太 - infrequent, formal, in official situations where 先生 would also be appropriate. For example, at a bank or a police station 'who is that?' 'oh thats my 太太' is fine

愛人 - normal, used similar to 'my partner' in English (nb. not the same as 'lover' in English)

夥計 - really colloquial, I mean, if you want to make people laugh, its like 'the missus' in british english

媳婦(兒)- sometimes normal, sometimes condescending/derogatory, can sometimes have the connotation along the lines of 'my wife (that I own)' around here.

夫人 - very polite, sometimes too formal, I have rarely if ever used this, but have heard others refer to my wife with this word once or twice before

 

to sum up, I just use 老婆 as a catch all, 妻子 in slightly more formal situations. 

 

 

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Jim

I always say 爱人, a common gender neutral term for spouse is about one of the few decent things the revolution has left us. Must hear 老婆 most often but as said, informally.

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Lu

I feel the same as Zhang Kairong. 老婆 for any less formal situation, 妻子 as good middle ground. 老婆 can also be used (somewhat jokingly but not quite) if you're not actually married but are an established, long-term couple. 夫人 I think is suitable for people like Peng Liyuan. I don't think I'd ever use 太太, there must be situations where it is the most correct form, but I don't trust myself to reliably recognise those situations. I like 爱人, but it seems old-fashioned (or 土?) to me, perhaps because of its revolutionary origins.

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imron
21 minutes ago, Lu said:

or 土?

I think 媳妇儿 is probably more 土, you hear it a lot in northern areas, and more remote areas.

 

爱人 is common on the mainland for referring to spouse, but has a different meaning in HK or Taiwan, where it does mean 'lover' in the English sense.

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mungouk

Fascinating thread. 

I read something recently that suggested 太太 would have connotations of higher status and wealth.  Do you guys think that's true? 

FWIW it comes up in at least HSK 3 but is not officially part of vocab until level 5.

 

(Possibly a good example of how vocabulary doesn't necessarily match with contemporary usage...)

 

 

 

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anonymoose

In Shanghai at least, 老婆 is common (in Shanghainese as well). I once referred to an older man's wife as 老婆 (in Mandarin), and someone told me that's impolite, and that I should use 妻子 instead.

 

You could also say 贤内助 if you want to be funny. I'm not sure how well it would go down with feminists though.

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Lu
7 minutes ago, anonymoose said:

I'm not sure how well it would go down with feminists though.

As a feminist, I can answer that one: badly.

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abcdefg
7 hours ago, mungouk said:

I read something recently that suggested 太太 would have connotations of higher status and wealth.  Do you guys think that's true? 

 

Yes, I said the same thing upstream/upthread.

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Dawei3

Many thanks to all 多谢!Very interesting!

 

If it’s of interest, a Japanese friend noted they also use 爱人, but it doesn’t have a good meaning and it’s not used for you wife. Instead it means your mistress. (Maybe it’s linked to the Taiwanese use?)

 

 

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Bibu
15 hours ago, Jim said:

always say ,

brave!i doult since 90 generation, they may not know it.

 

Husband and wife are both 爱人 since new china, as equality, none property class dominant, that is a lovely and magic period almost forgotten now.

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Michaelyus

I wonder how much the concept of 内外 still holds; I would posit that in the family it holds strongest. 

 

A perspective from a southern topolect (Cantonese, Fuzhounese/other Min Dong, Shanghainese)-dominated Mandarin in the overseas diaspora in (inner-city) London:

 

老婆 - normal, colloquial, used more often for own wife; only used for the wife of the listener or third-party referents in familiar contexts 

妻子 - normal, usually in more formal situations, although fine in normal conversation too. Not for direct address (especially of your own wife; that would be seriously weird).

太太 - formal, in official situations as counterpart to 先生; also usual term to refer to and address 外 people who are 1) significantly older than yourself; 2) strangers. Not uncommon though. 

愛人 - rare, sounds specifically Mainland. Can be interpreted to mean mistress (HK/TW contexts) so generally avoided.

夥計 - unused (and unknown) in the family context (in Cantonese it is the fairly normal [if somewhat impolite] way to call waiters). 

媳婦 - unused, unknown as wife; would be confused with son-in-law way too easily. People with contacts with northern Chinese would be more likely to understand it.

夫人 - rare, dated, but have used it for people jocularly

賢內助 - rare but used as an honorific among people of a certain age, although it does border on the humorous for them, rather than on the sarcastic. 

內人 - rare, dated, understood only. Sounds like Classical Chinese, although I see it was used a humble form.

 

There's a much larger variety of topolect forms out there too. If 賢內助 sounds somewhat uncomfortable, then some of those others might be positively shocking, linked as they are to certain ideas about husband and wife roles.

 

 

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Dawei3

A friend who lives in Beijing, but is from Guangxi, gave me a very nice summary (her English is unedited to make it authentic). She mentions the class issue noted by abcdefg. I really like talking with people like her because she sees the depth of words. Much of what she wrote mirrors Tomsima and Michael with some differences. She notes that 太太 is used by some “ordinary” people. She wrote:

 

formal:妻子,爱人,informal:老婆

 

太太, is a formal, and some kind of, normally used in rich or well educated familly before, but now is also used by some ordinary people.

 

you can use both 妻子 and 太太,these two words sound match you when you introduce your wife to others 

 

爱人,some kind of too Chinese, normally used by traditional local Chinese

 

when introducing your wife to your very close friends, you can use 老婆. and "老婆”is also used when you call your wife, is some kind like "Hey! Honey!",

 

other words like: 

媳妇(people from north of China like to use it, very common in north of China ),

爱妻 = 妻子

内人(too  traditional, you do not need to learn)

 

(I need to ask her what she means by “too Chinese” regarding 爱人)。

 

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Lu
7 hours ago, Dawei3 said:

(I need to ask her what she means by “too Chinese” regarding 爱人)。

You would have to ask her to make sure, but I think she might mean that that term is so closely connected to a very specific time and place, which virtually only Chinese people have experienced, that it would sound weird to hear a non-Chinese say it. A bit like some Chinese people still call 同志! to get the attention of a stranger on the bus to tell them they lost something and it sounds fine, but you cannot use 同志 in such occasions because you are a foreigner and it would sound really weird.

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Dawei3

Lu - Your comment explains something I’ve experienced many times;  I’ve learned to say an appropriate phrase. Then after using it many times, someone I’ve just met will say “Chinese people never say that”. Or “Only old people say that.” Or “Only old women say that.” I’ve heard this many many times for countless phrases and always wondered about its basis (because the things I learned were often from young people and often men. None from “old women.”)

 

Your comment may explain this reaction; that it might sound “too native” to come from me. 

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Dawei3

I had a recent experience that may illustrate this. I was talking about my daughter and said 她是我的小棉襖 (she’s close to my heart). A person I had just met said “Men never say that!”  I was shocked because it’s a phrase I had learned and forgotten many times. Each time a different friend taught me it, they would have told me men “never “ use it.  I told the woman I was shocked to hear men and she could see it on my face. 

 

 It became obvious she didn’t actually believe what she had just told me. She tried to pull back her words. I think Lu’s “too native” explanation fits. Friends like hearing me say this about my daughter, but it might be uncomfortable for strangers. 

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Jim

Reminded me that the county I worked in in west Sichuan you'd hear people say 屋内地, very like colloquial English her indoors.

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Tomsima
5 hours ago, Dawei3 said:

A person I had just met said “Men never say that!”

 

I would take a guess that it may have also been the tone in which you said it, perhaps as it was a phrase you were selecting with purpose (as you have learnt and forgotten many times), it may have sounded strange to a native ear. I say this, as I avoided saying 討厭 for many years as I was told 'only girls say that' when I first started using it. However, over the years I noticed that men also seemed to say it, but often in a more defiant way, not in the 撒嬌 way. I began using it again in a more assured, genuinely disappointed/angry tone of voice, and noone has ever picked up on it again. I was in fact even corrected once and actively told I should say 討厭 in that situation.

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