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English counterparts of 10 Chinese idioms

chinese to english, chinese idioms

When we travel abroad, we're ready to experience entirely new cultures and try all of the exotic cuisine and activities. 

到国外旅游时,我们乐于体验全新的文化、尝遍异域美食并参与活动。

 

But some of the most exciting discoveries are the ones that strike close to home. Finding the familiar in the foreign is a great reminder that no matter where you go, people are, at their core, just people.

但最兴奋的是莫过于发现跟自己祖国相近的东西。在异国他乡发现熟悉的东西提醒我们:无论去哪,人的本质都是相似的。

 

Language is often the most alienating and isolating cultural barrier, preventing us from communicating and connecting with the world around us. But even in language, there are some cool coincidences.

语言是最容易使我们产生疏远和隔阂的文化障碍,阻碍我们与周围的世界进行沟通和交流。但即使是在语言中,也有一些令人拍手称快的巧合。

 

Many Chinese and English idioms intersect in meaning or even match in phrasing. This all goes to show that even for languages as different as English and Chinese, there are common ideas we all feel the need to express.

汉语和英语中的许多习语,不仅在意思上,甚至在措辞上都有交集。这些都表明,即使像英语和汉语这样不同的语言,也有需要表达的共同想法。

 

Here's a list of some of our favorite Chinese idioms that have English equivalents. They reveal a lot about the similarities between the two cultures, as well as a few small differences:

以下是一些我们在汉语中最爱用的习语,在英语中都有相对应的表达。说明这两种语言既有许多相似点,又有些许微小差异。

 

1. When hell freezes over / When pigs fly

In Chinese: When the sun rises from the west
Chú feī tài yáng cóng xī biān chū lái
除非太阳从西边出来 

 

When talking about an event that is impossible, Westerners turn to flights of fancy, and the Chinese to astronomical upheaval.

当谈论到一件事情不可能发生的时候,西方人天马行空,中国人则联想到了天文变化。

 

An additional note: This expression can also be used as a question to express your surprise at an uncommon incident.

另外,这种表达同样可以作为疑问句使用,表达你对非常事件感到惊讶。

 

Say, for example, your child is awake before noon and has cleaned up the house and made you breakfast. First, you say thank you, and then you ask, "Did the sun rise from the west today?"

例如,你的孩子在中午之前就醒了,打扫好房间,并为你做好早餐,你先说了句谢谢,然后问道:"今天太阳从西边出来啦?"

 

2. Double-edged sword

In Chinese: Water can carry the boat and also overturn the boat.
shuǐ néng zài zhōu, yì néng fù zhōu
水能载舟,亦能覆舟 

 

This proverb originated from a Q and A with Confucius.

这条谚语来源于孔夫子和学生的对话。

 

Originally, it was a reminder that leaders were kept afloat by the populous that supported them. If they were dissatisfied, the same people could easily overthrow the leader.

起初,它提醒人们,统治者如一艘漂浮的船,支持他的老百姓如水,水能让船安稳地航行,也能使船倾覆,沉于水中。

 

In the same way, a double-edged sword reminds us that what brings us power can also bring us harm.

同样地,一把双刃剑则提醒我们,那些给我们带来正能量的人同样也能给我们带来伤害。

 

These days, both expressions are used more generally to point out how our tools can either help or harm, depending on how we use them.

工具会帮我们还是害我们,取决于我们怎样使用它们,现在,这两种表达更经常用来指这个意思。

 

For example, if your team at work is feeling great because your project is getting a lot of press, just keep in mind that media attention can go both ways.

例如,很多媒体报道了你的项目,你的团队成员为此感觉良好,这时候就要牢记,媒体的关注是把双刃剑。

 

3. An apple a day keeps the doctor away

In Chinese: Carrots in winter and ginger in summer, then the doctor won't have to write a prescription.
dōng chī luó bo xià chī jiāng, bú yòng yī shēng kaī yào fāng
冬吃萝卜夏吃姜, 不用医生开药方 

 

Both cultures focus on nutrition as a way to avoid seeing or bothering the doctor, but the Chinese idiom includes a seasonal caveat as well as a focus on prescriptions and medications, which can be both costly and foul tasting.

两种文化都强调补充营养是避免求医的一种方式,但汉语习语中包含了季节的提醒及对药方的关注,这个可能既昂贵,味道又不好。

 

This is a good way to remind people to eat more nutritiously and mind their health.

这是提醒人们多吃富有营养的食物、注意身体健康的好方法。

 

4. Think before you act

In Chinese: Think three times. Act after.
sān sī ér hòu xíng
三思而后行 

 

Both cultures were smart enough to include this proverb, what with double-edged swords and boats being so tricky.

两种文化的人都拥有足够的智慧来理解这句谚语,"双刃剑"和"水能载舟亦能覆舟"的说法就比较难理解。

 

The term sān sī (三思) means to mull it over or to think again in Chinese, but the plea includes some numeric specificity as the literal definition is "think three times."

"三思"这个词在汉语中的意思是仔细考虑或再想一遍,但这个恳求具有数字特征,按字面理解就是"考虑三遍"。

 

This is a good phrase to use for any friend about to make a big, spontaneous decision.

对即将做出重大、自发性决定的朋友说这句话很恰当。

 

5. Kill two birds with one stone

In Chinese: One rock two birds
yì shí èr niăo 
一石二鸟 

One arrow two hawks
yí jiàn shuāng diāo
一箭双雕 

 

By giving a problem three thoughts, you can often come up with a solution crafty enough to take care of two birds at once.

对一个问题考虑多遍后,你经常都能得出一个足够机智的解决方案,一石二鸟。

 

In this Chinese chéng yŭ (成语), the language is cut down to the barest images. In the alternative saying, the birds are somewhat bigger and the act of shooting an arrow somewhat harder.

在这个成语中,人们把语言分解成了最具体的画面,另外一种说法中,鸟大得多,更难瞄准射箭。

 

Perhaps we can assume that bigger problems must be expressed through bigger fowl?

也许我们可以把它理解成:更大的困难就要与更大的飞禽相对应。

 

6. Small potatoes

In Chinese: Chicken feathers and garlic peels.
jī máo suàn pí 
鸡毛蒜皮 


Then again, some problems aren't problems at all. As it turns out, they're really no big deal.

再说了,有些问题跟本就不是问题,事实证明,它们真的没有什么大不了的。

 

To highlight the insignificance of an action or an event, Westerners might use the term "small potatoes."

为了强调某个行为或某件事无关紧要的时候,西方人可能会用"small potatoes"这个词。

 

In the Chinese version, kitchen scraps like chicken feathers and garlic peels are used. So when someone shows up to your potluck dinner party with a small plate of nothing, you'll know what to say about this.

中国人会用鸡毛、蒜皮等厨房垃圾。所以当有人只带了一个小空碟子来参加你的晚餐会的时候,你就知道如何形容这种情形了。

 

Additionally, chicken feathers and garlic peels can be used to discuss any trifling matter or superficial conversation. If you meet an old friend at the dinner party but only have time for small talk, you can say that you only spoke of jī máo suàn pí things.

另外,人们可以用"鸡毛蒜皮"来形容微不足道的事情或肤浅的谈话。如果你在晚宴上遇到了一位老朋友,但是没什么时间,只能简短交流,你可以说你只说了一些"鸡毛蒜皮"。

 

7. Stands head & shoulders above the rest

In Chinese: A crane standing among a horde of chickens.
hè lì jī qún 
鹤立鸡群 

 

Speaking of those insignificant chickens… they really just can't compare with a crane.

说起微不足道的鸡……它们真的不能跟鹤相媲美。

 

This expression is used to describe someone who stands out from the rest, such as an excellent job candidate, an impressive artist, or a potential love interest. 

这个表达用于形容某人十分出众,比如一个优秀的职位候选人,一个令人印象深刻的艺术家或者一个爱慕对象。

 

8. Love at first sight

In Chinese: One look and deep in love.
yí jiàn zhōng qíng
一见钟情

 

Regardless of all the chickens in the world, you're bound to meet your crane one day. Just be careful not to get swept away, as both English and Chinese speakers recognize the dangers of infatuation when you fall in love at first sight.

你一定会在茫茫人海中找到你的真爱,只是要小心,别看走眼。无论是说英语还是说汉语的人都知道一见钟情不怎么靠谱。

 

9. Do unto others as you would have done to yourself

In Chinese: Love people as if they were yourself
ài rén rú jĭ 
爱人如己 

 

Here's a much deeper kind of love to focus on. It may not be romantic love, but both cultures celebrate the importance of the Golden Rule.

这个成语关注的是一种更深层次的爱,它涉及到的可能不是浪漫的爱情,但是两种文化的人都把它奉为金科玉律。

 

Interestingly enough, the origin for this phrase in Chinese also comes from a translation of the Bible.

很有意思的是,汉语的这个短语也是从圣经里翻译过来的。

 

Its usage today, however, does not necessarily have religious ties. You can feel at ease using it to tell off any bully.

它现在的用法不一定跟宗教有关,你可以自如地用它来劝服那些欺善凌弱的恶霸。

 

10. Speak of the devil

In Chinese: Speak of Cao Cao, and Cao Cao arrives.
shuō cáo cāo, cáo cāo dào
说曹操,曹操到 

 

While ghosts and demons abound in Buddhist tradition and Chinese superstition, cáo cāo (曹操) was the historical figure chosen to represent the devil in this idiom.

在佛教传统和中国的迷信中,妖魔鬼怪比比皆是。在这个成语中,人们用曹操这个历史人物来代表魔鬼。

 

A warlord during the Three Kingdoms period, cáo cāo (曹操) has been praised as a brilliant strategist and fair ruler, but Chinese opera also represented him as cunning and deceitful. This portrayal carried on into the literary epic, Romance of the Three Kingdoms.

三国时期,曹操被誉为杰出的策略家和公平的统治者,但京剧中的曹操狡黠而欺诈,这一形象也延续到了文学史诗《三国演义》中。

 

This idiom arose out of the belief that cáo cāo had many eyes and ears everywhere, and moved with unbelievable speed. You had to be careful when speaking ill about him. 

人们相信曹操有很多双眼睛和耳朵,无处不在,能够以出人意料的速度移动,所以说他坏话的时候要特别小心。这个成语就出自于此。

 

Anytime you are enjoying some gossip and suddenly the subject of your conversation texts, calls, or somehow announces her presence, you can verbalize this coincidence by saying, "shuō cáo cāo, cáo cāo dào (说曹操,曹操到)!"

当你正沉浸在说别人坏话的快感时,突然有电话、短信或其他方式告诉你这个人来了,你可以用"说曹操,曹操到"来形容这种巧合。

 

It's also interesting to note that the second half of the idiom is often omitted in English. Usually, you'll often hear people say, "Speak of the devil."

英语中,这个成语的后半句常常被省略,这个也很有意思。平时,你经常都能听到别人说"Speak of the devil"。

 

In Chinese, no one will ever say "shuō cáo cāo (说曹操)" and leave it at that!. Don't omit the second half of it like you would in Enlish.

在汉语中,没有人只说"shuō cáo cāo (说曹操)",后面就没了!不要像在英语中一样省略后半句。

2016-06-21

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