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Chinese “吃” not necessarily “eating”

Chinese characters, learning Chinese

Most Chinese words have multiple meanings other than the basic one. For example, the verb "吃 (chī)" has the basic meaning "eat", which is widely known. Usually it is used before words for food, such as "吃饭 (chī fàn, have a meal)", "吃糖 (chī tang, have candy)" or "吃肉 (chī ròu, eat meat)". Besides the basic meaning, "吃 (chī)" has derived meanings and metaphoric meanings as well.



Here are two derived meanings of "吃 (chī)":



"吃 (chī)" can be used to mean "go through" or "suffer". Examples:



吃苦 (chī kǔ) – to go through hardships


吃惊 (chī jīng) – to be surprised


吃亏 (chī kuī) – to suffer loss



"吃 (chī)" can also mean "need or use great effort". Examples:



吃力 (chī lì) – arduous


吃劲 (chī jìn) – laboursome



Here are the metaphoric meanings of "吃(chī)". Examples:



吃香 (chī xiāng) – popular


吃醋 (chī cù) – jealous in love


吃闭门羹 (chī bì mén gēng) – be denied entrance at the door



In spoken Chinese, there are many other interesting phrases containing "吃 (chī)", like "吃父母 (chī fù mǔ)", "吃食堂 (chī shí tang)", "吃大碗 (chī dà wǎn)" and "靠山吃山,靠水吃水 (kào shān chī shān, kào shuǐ chī shuǐ)". Of course, these phrases do not mean "to eat parents/canteen/big bowl/mountain". Here, the structure of "吃X" is caused by the displacement of words and in fact, it leaves out some sentence components. Examples:



"吃父母 (chī fù mǔ)" means children live off their parents. Here, "父母(fù mǔ)" is used instead of "父母的收入 (fù mǔ de shōu rù)", where the word "收入 (shōu rù)" is left out.



"吃食堂 (chī shí táng)" means "to eat in the canteen". The adverbial "食堂里 (shí táng lǐ, in the canteen)" is displaced where the object of "吃 (chī, to eat)" is supposed to be placed.



"吃大碗 (chī dà wǎn)" means "to eat with a big bowl" , which is similar to "吃食堂(chī shí táng)".



"靠山吃山,靠水吃水 (kào shān chī shān, kào shuǐ chī shuǐ, make a living according to one's given circumstances)" is a Chinese proverb. Here the "吃山 (chī shān)" means "to live on the natural products from the mountain" and "吃水 (chī shuǐ)" means "to live on natural products from the sea or river". "山 (shān)" refers to the "mountain products" and "水 (shuǐ)" is "aquatic product".



A complement added after "吃 (chī)" can form the structure "吃得X" and "吃不X". Examples:



吃得开 (chī de kāi) – workable, popular


吃不开 (chī bu kāi) – not workable, unpopular



吃得消 (chī de xiāo)/吃得住 (chī de zhù) – be able to stand or bear


吃不消 (chī bu xiāo)/吃不住 (chī bu zhù) – be unable to stand or bear



吃得上 (chī de shàng) – can afford to eat


吃不上 (chī bu shàng) – can't afford to eat



吃得惯 (chī de guàn) – be used to eating certain food


吃不惯 (chī bú guàn) – be not used to eating certain food


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