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All about eating—Or is it?

In China, people say that “民以食为天 (Bread is the stall of life.),” and that is true. Eating is such an important element of our lives that friends meet at restaurants, contracts are signed at the wine tables, and even working plans are carried out at dinner tables. It is all about eating. But today, we are going to see some words that seem relevant to eating, while actually they are not.


1. 饭碗: fàn wǎn

The word “饭碗” means “rice bowl.” Nowadays, it is often used as “job,” “market,” or “business.”



1)Tā yīnwèi jīngcháng chídào ér diū le fànwǎn 。

     他因为经常迟到而丢了饭碗。

     He lost his job because of his lateness.


Similarly, the word “铁饭碗”, which literally means “iron rice bowl,” means a stable, lifelong job, or a permanent income they would never lose whether they work hard or not.


1)XiǎoWáng zài hǎiguān gōngzuò 。

     小王在海关工作。

     Xiao Wang works at the customs.


2)Nà zhēn shì gè tiě fànwǎn ɑ!

     那真是个铁饭碗啊!

     That’s a stable job with a satisfying salary!


2. 吃香: chī xiāng

吃香 is an adjective. It has the same meaning as “受欢迎” (be popular). “香” means fragrance; it is something that makes people feel pleasant, so “吃香”(eating fragrance) must be a pleasing feeling.


1)Hànyǔ xiànzài zài ōuměi guójiā hěn chīxiāng 。

     汉语现在在欧美国家很吃香。

     Chinese is very popular in the Occident.


3.吃软饭:chī ruǎn fàn

“吃软饭” is used to define men who are “sweetbacks,” who live off women rather than work for a living, or husbands who benefit through petticoat influence.

It is said that “吃软饭” comes from Shanghai dialect, and that in the old society of Shanghai, these kinds of men were sort of common to see. “吃软饭” was used to describe these men, and then eventually to describe a way of life they represented.


1)Chī ruǎnfàn de nánrén bèi dàjiā kànbùqǐ 。

     吃软饭的男人被大家看不起 。

     People look down upon those men who live off a woman.


4.吃豆腐:chī dòu fu 

“吃豆腐” indicates the action when men take liberties with woman or flirt with them. But when this phrase was made, it was not about flirting but about taking advantages of others. Back in olden times, people went to a funeral to offer their condolence as well as to help, so the host would treat people with a meal, of which tofu was the main course. So people called this funeral meal “吃豆腐” or “吃豆腐饭”. There are people who didn’t help at all but were only interested in the meal, so people would say that these people just come to “吃豆腐”, that is, just to take advantage.


Since tofu is white and soft, people think it is quite like girls’ porcelain-like skin and tender character, so now “吃豆腐” is used with the meaning of a man flirting with a woman.

1)Shìchǎng bù jīnglǐ ài chī nǚ yuángōng de dòufu, dàjiā dōu bù xǐhuan zài nà gōngzuò 。

     市场部经理爱吃女员工的豆腐,大家都不喜欢在那工作。

     The manager of marketing likes to flirt with female staff; no one likes to work there.


5. 吃小灶:chī xiǎo zào      

Literally, “吃小灶” means to eat by a small kitchen stove. In olden times, families were usually bigger; there may have been over 10 family members living in a big house, so housewives normally would cook with big stoves and big pots. Dishes cooked in big pots are less delicious than dishes cooked in small pots .Thus, people use “吃小灶” to describe those who are taken special care of, or those who are being paid special attention to, because in olden times, only people with a high social status were able to have dishes cooked in small pots.

1)XiǎoLì kǎo le dìyī míng !

     小丽考了第一名!

     Xiao Li got the first place in the exam!


2)Lǎoshī gěi tā chī le xiǎozào,yǒu tèshū zhàogù a 。

     老师给她吃了小灶, 有特殊照顾啊。

     Our teacher has taken special care of her.


6. 啃老族:kěn lǎo zú

The boomerang child is called “啃老族” in Chinese, which could be directly translated as “gnaw the old group.” There are also similar words, like “吃老族” (eat the old group) or “傍老族” (nestle on the old group). All of these words are used to describe those who are able to find a job, but take the initiative to give up their employment opportunities and stay at home living with their parents. They not only spend their parents’ money on basic living needs, but they also cost a lot of money on different things, even on luxuries. “啃老族” are in their 20s, and have the ability to make a living by working an ordinary job; most of them are college graduates. They often hold the attitude that it’s not fair that they need to work for a low salary while they are well educated, yet some of them can’t bear stressful jobs, wanting easy jobs with a good salary, hence, they are stuck in the state of unemployed and not looking for new jobs aggressively. Sociologists call them the “new unemployed community.”



1)Wǒ yě bùxiǎng zuò kěnlǎozú a,kěshì gōngzī zhè me dī !

     我也不想做啃老族啊,可是工资这么 低!

    I don’t want to be a boomerang child, but my salary is so low!


7. 吃老本: chī lǎo běn     

“吃老本” is a figure of speech describing one who lives off one’s past achievements, or live on one’s own fat.

“吃老本” first appears on on January 9th, 1977. The Daily quoted Primary Zhou Enlai: “We need to educate cadres not to rest on our laurels, we must establish new feats.”


1)Dāngjīn shìjiè ,kēxué zhīshi gēngxīn hěn kuài ,wǒmen bùnéng chī lǎoběn ,yào shí shí xuéxí xīn dōngxi 。

     当今世界,科学知识更新很快,我们不能吃老本,要时时学习新东西 。

     Nowadays, scientific knowledge updates very fast; we can’t just rest on our laurels, we must always learn new things.


8.吃不消:chī bù xiāo

“吃不消” means to be unable to bear; it has a similar meaning to “受不了”.


1)Zài zhèyàng de dà rè tiān lǐ pǎobù ràng wǒ chībùxiāo .

     在这样的大热天里跑步让我吃不消。 

     Jogging in such hot weather makes me hard to stand.

9.吃不了兜着走:chī bù liǎo dōu zhe zǒu

“吃不了兜着走” literally means “if you can’t eat up all the food, then you have to take away the leftover food.” This slang comes from dialect, but we don’t use its original meaning already, people use this sentence because it shows a warning and threatening tone, which can be translate into English as ”Watch out, if things go wrong ,you are going to bear all the consequences.”



1)Rúguǒ lǎobǎn zhīdào le zhè jiàn shì ,wǒmen dōu děi chībùliǎo dōuzhezǒu 。

     如果老板知道了这件事,我们都得吃不了兜着走。

     If boss knows this, we are going to be screwed.


Source:Dig Mandarin

2017-04-21

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