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Food Metaphors and Idioms in Chinese

December 20, 2010
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The Chinese language is riddled with metaphorical allusions to food. Food is often used to describe social relations or other relatively complex social phenomena. Below I have listed examples I have come across.  First are the Chinese characters, then the pinyin romanization and last is the explanation.

  1. Դ chc. This is probably the most common food metaphor in everyday speech. Literally to eat vinegar, this phrase is the Chinese equivalent for getting jealous.
  2. Ѽʽ tinysh. Literally, stuff the duck style, this phrase refers to the force-feeding or cramming (as in studying) teaching method common in the Chinese schooling system.
  3. suntinkŭl. Literally, sour, sweet, bitter, and spicy. These four are considered the primary flavors of Chinese cuisine, and when taken together, refer to the joys and sorrows of life.
  4. Ӵ rubozidăgu. Literally, hitting a dog with a steamed bun. This phrase is used to criticize using the wrong tool or method to solve a problem.
  5. Ϊ嶷 bwe wŭ dŏu mĭ zh yo. Literally, not bowing for five dŏu (an ancient Chinese measurement for grain, equal to 10 liters) of rice. This phrase is used to describe someone that is unwilling to do anything demeaning or painful for material benefit.
  6. ҪԷҪΰ dngguăn yoshi qnglin chfn jiyo pi ynb. Literally the upright (incorruptible) government official will only have salt to eat with his rice. This describes the cynical (realistic) Chinese outlook on governmentCall politicians are corrupt.
6 Comments leave one →
  1. December 20, 2010 21:47

    Cool post. How did you find these?

    • Tim Quijano permalink*
      December 21, 2010 17:01

      Thanks, I have studied the first two in class, and found them really interesting, so when I came across 酸甜苦辣 in a friend’s textbook a couple days ago, I got the idea for the post. I can’t remember where I heard 肉包子打狗。 The last two I found on some website.

  2. Elizabeth permalink
    December 21, 2010 13:03

    you forgot Զ

    • Tim Quijano permalink*
      December 21, 2010 16:56

      ah yes, you’re right chidofu, literally to eat tofu, meaning to flirt

  3. December 23, 2010 15:10

    the most useful info I’ve found in a while. thxxx dood.


  1. Food Metaphors and Idioms in Chinese, part 2 | pekingology

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