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Chinese & English expressions that are surprisingly similar


Jan Finster
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Somewhat on topic, wondering if anyone has any insight. A friend was telling me today, that when people say chin-chin (when drinking alcohol) this comes from the Chinese 请

 

I didn't really know whether this was correct or not? does anyone have any input

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Wiktionary says (under Italian):

 

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From Pidgin English chin-chin (an expression of gratitude, salutation or congratulations), a reduplication of Mandarin  (qǐng, please), misinterpreted as onomatopoeic of two glasses clinking. Compare Portuguese tchim-tchim, tim-tim, Spanish chinchín, French tchin-tchin.

 

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The surmises on 一石二鳥 起源 are just that.  One authoritative source matters much more than lots of people who likely are repeating what someone else surmised or guessed.  

 

On 4/1/2020 at 7:04 PM, mungouk said:

How might we find evidence that something definitely is a calque/direct borrowing/whatever?

The way the Oxford English dictionary and linguists determine the origin of a word or phrase is by studying documents and seeing when the phrase/word first appeared.  A (surprisingly) fascinating book on this is "The Professor & the Madman, a tale of murder, insanity, and the making of the Oxford English dictionary."  

 

Google's ngram gives some interesting info on word use and evolution.  

 

 

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On 4/3/2020 at 1:29 AM, Dawei3 said:

One authoritative source matters much more

 

Well, exactly... this is what I meant by "How might we find evidence that something definitely is a calque/direct borrowing/whatever?"

 

In other words, what are good sources for finding what scholars have traced and decided in terms of the origins of sayings?

 

 

 

 

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  • 1 month later...
Chinese Colloquialised

@Jan Finster "我掐指一算" is not quite the same as "I keep my fingers crossed". "我掐指一算" means I calculated something with my fingers. It was traditionally used in a fortune-telling context as an expression to mean "prediction", a bit like licking your finger and holding it up in the air to test for rain etc, now it's a play on that context. It's quite difficult to translate and, depending on the circumstance, you could skip it entirely, e.g. 掐指一算,离上学的日子不远了 would be something like "all of a sudden, I don't have many days left before school starts" or just simply, "I don't have many days left before school starts". 

 

On 4/4/2020 at 9:33 AM, Jan Finster said:

I recently heard: 我 掐指一算 (I pinch my fingers)

I guess it means "I keep my fingers crossed" (!?)

 

A couple of other similar expressions I came across: 

  • A bad workman blames his tools: 人笨怪刀钝
  • A blessing in disguise: 因祸得福
  • A drop in the ocean: 沧海一栗
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  • 5 months later...

In a Chinese translation of a NY Times bestseller I read: 

"从 公众 关切 的 雷达 屏幕 上 消失 了" = Disappeared from the radar of public concern

 

"Disappear from someone's radar" is this just literally translated or would a Chinese person use that expression as well?

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  • 1 year later...
On 11/6/2020 at 4:22 AM, Jan Finster said:

In a Chinese translation of a NY Times bestseller I read: 

"从 公众 关切 的 雷达 屏幕 上 消失 了" = Disappeared from the radar of public concern

"Disappear from someone's radar" is this just literally translated or would a Chinese person use that expression as well?

It's a very literal (and clumsy) translation and a Chinese person wouldn't use that expression at all (the radar imagery is quite alien to us, we prefer sonar /jk) — unless he's reading too many translated NYT bestsellers.

 

 

On 4/2/2020 at 7:04 AM, mungouk said:
On 3/19/2020 at 5:57 AM, davoosh said:

一石二鳥 and 早起的鳥有蟲吃 are definitely calques/translations.

How might we find evidence that something definitely is a calque/direct borrowing/whatever?

汉语大词典 is the closest thing to OED in Chinese. It's reasonable to assume that if an expression looks very much like a calque/borrowing and you can't find a source earlier than ca. 1850, then it probably is a calque/borrowing.

For 一石二鳥 we have two similar expressions 一箭双雕 and 一举两得. These two expressions can be traced to Southern Song (at least) and Eastern Han respectively. On the other hand, the earliest citation for 一石二鳥 is from a contemporary writer. That's strong enough evidence for me. Plus 一箭双雕 and 一石二鳥 are almost identical in structure, but since the sound (仄仄平平) and detail of the former are more in line with a traditional idiom, I don't see why we even need the latter, unless it is to translate a proverb/idiom/saying from another language.

 

EDIT: Aha, mystery solved! 一石二鳥 is a 四字熟語 or four-character idiomatic compound in Japanese but 一箭双雕 is not (the animal is called 鷲). All dictionaries give "kill two birds with one stone" as its origin, and according to this online etymology dictionary, this new translation (to replace 一挙両得) might be influenced by the Chinese chengyu 一箭双雕. It first appeared in Taisho era (1912-1926) and became commonly used after 1935. So it's a Japanese calque later picked up by Chinese (no earlier than 1976, in mainland China for obvious reason, in Taiwan the year 《胭脂井》 was published).

 

 

On 5/15/2020 at 6:29 PM, Chinese Colloquialised said:
  • A bad workman blames his tools: 人笨怪刀钝
  • A blessing in disguise: 因祸得福
  • A drop in the ocean: 沧海一栗

人笨怪刀钝: never encountered this one before.

因祸得福 appeared in the commentary of a Ming dynasty book. I'm leaning towards its being made in China. (Are you sure these two idioms are formed in the same fashion? I have evidence that a Chinese translator had no idea what is 'a blessing in disguise'.)

沧海一粟 is from a rhymed prose written by 苏轼, so evidently of native origin. (It's 粟 sù 'millet' not 栗 lì 'chestnut', by the way.)

 

 

Quote

From Pidgin English chin-chin (an expression of gratitude, salutation or congratulations), a reduplication of Mandarin  (qǐng, please), misinterpreted as onomatopoeic of two glasses clinking. Compare Portuguese tchim-tchim, tim-tim, Spanish chinchín, French tchin-tchin.

Ha, I learned that from a second-hand textbook I bought some 30 years ago — Prego! An Invitation to Italian by Graziana Lazzarino.

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  • 4 weeks later...

You guys should check out the Laowai Chengyu Guide! The chengyu entries contain relevant English equivalent, the story from which the chengyu originated, and period of origin (and definitions, connotations, usage examples, etc). You can even search for the English equivalent and have a corresponding chengyu pop up. There are currently 150ish entries, but a few are added every week, and requests are taken.

 

Some surprisingly similar idioms that I haven't seen listed yet on the thread include:

 

  • "When in Rome, do as the Romans do" has an equivalent in 入乡随俗 (rù xiàng suí sú).
  • "Not know whether to laugh or cry" has an equivalent in 哭笑不得 (kū xiào bù dé)

 

And then a notable false similarity is 过河拆桥 (guò hé chāi qiáo), which literally means to "tear down the bridge after crossing the river." One might think that this means the same thing as "burn your bridges," but it actually is better translated as "kick down the ladder."

 

And then to build off of some of the earlier comments:

 

On 12/25/2021 at 3:44 AM, Publius said:
On 5/15/2020 at 6:29 AM, Chinese Colloquialised said:
  • A bad workman blames his tools: 人笨怪刀钝
  • A blessing in disguise: 因祸得福
  • A drop in the ocean: 沧海一栗

 

For blessing in disguise, there's also 塞翁失马. It comes from the story of a man who saw silver linings in a series of unlucky events.

For a drop in the ocean, there's also 九牛一毛. It comes from the story of the great historian 司马迁, who was imprisoned for not toadying to the emperor.

 

On 12/25/2021 at 3:44 AM, Publius said:

EDIT: Aha, mystery solved! 一石二鳥 is a 四字熟語 or four-character idiomatic compound in Japanese but 一箭双雕 is not (the animal is called 鷲). All dictionaries give "kill two birds with one stone" as its origin, and according to this online etymology dictionary, this new translation (to replace 一挙両得) might be influenced by the Chinese chengyu 一箭双雕. It first appeared in Taisho era (1912-1926) and became commonly used after 1935. So it's a Japanese calque later picked up by Chinese (no earlier than 1976, in mainland China for obvious reason, in Taiwan the year 《胭脂井》 was published).

 

It's really interesting to see that the etymology dictionary says that the 一石两鸟 was inspired solely by "kill two birds with one stone." 一箭双雕 is over a thousand years old (it comes from the story of a skilled archer who successfully shot down two birds with a single arrow upon the request of a king), and I'm surprised that it didn't transfer to Japanese in that time. It's so crazy to see how languages grow and change, so thanks for sharing!

 

Disclaimer: This is my website, but I don't make any profit off of it (there aren't even any ads). One of the reasons I created the site was that I asked a lot of the questions that people in this thread were asking, and I thought the resources that could answer those questions were lacking. I hope it helps!

 

 

Edited by laowai-guide
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