BEAR IN MIND Remember how to speak by saying things you shouldn’t
Happy New Year, everyone! The topic for this month is the zodiac animal for 2017, the rooster 鸡 (jī). Roosters are hard-working animals in Chinese culture because they get up early, but in most cases, a rooster—like in western culture—is not a very fancy animal image.
There is an old saying: “宁为鸡头，不做凤尾 (nìng wéi jītóu, búzuò fèngwěi),” which in English is “Better to be a head of a rooster than the tail of a phoenix.” Still, the rooster is often downgraded because of its features. In people’s minds, they are average, mediocre animals that have little for which to be praised.
Recently, there were popular online buzzwords on the topic: 鸡 (jī) 鸡肋 (jīlèi), which mean chicken ribs. 肋 (lèi) means ribs. Chicken ribs work as nothing for food material, so this word refers to things of little value or interest.
There’s also another example of bad thoughts toward roosters. Due to the similar pronunciation with 妓 (jì), or prostitute, 鸡 (jī) later became the name for prostitutes. 做鸡 (zuòjī) is to work as a prostitute and 召鸡 (zhàojī) is to call for a prostitute.
Anyway, Chinese culture considers 鸡 (jī) a coward, useless and weak. However, among the different kinds of meats, Chinese people usually prefer chicken. Look how popular fried chicken is in China! So, just enjoy 鸡 (jī) as a wonderful food for cooking during the year of rooster!
For more about names of food in Mandarin Chinese, check out the video.
TALKING POINTS A supplement for grammar practice
Chinese Mandarin has plenty of four-character idioms about this year’s zodiac. Let’s look at some interesting examples.
Killing the chicken to scare the monkey.
This is an idiom refers to punishing someone as a warning to others. This “someone” sacrificed is usually innocent, weak and not as clever as others.
Chicken flying, dog jumping.
This refers to turmoil. By the way, the dog is not a positive image in Chinese culture, either.
Dumb as a wooden chicken.
It is used to describe someone paralyzed with fear.
他吓得呆若木鸡。(tā xià de dāiruòmùjī)
Terror rooted him to the ground.
CARTOON CHARACTERS Mnemonic devices that work
肉 (ròu) is one of the characters, which is indeed a visual representation. It looks like meat hanging on a hook in the butcher’s shop. 吃 (chī) means “eat,” so “吃牛肉” (chī niúròu) is “eating beef.”
Meanwhile, let’s see the names for other kinds of meat:
鸡肉 (jīròu) 猪肉 (zhūròu) 鱼肉 (yúròu) 羊肉 (yángròu). Other relevant words: 肌肉 (jīròu) muscle
This word is pronounced the same as chicken meat in Chinese.
Example: 我们教练的肌肉很漂亮。(wǒmen jiàoliàn de jīròu hěnpiàoliàng.)
Our coach has very good looking muscles.
果肉 (guǒròu) fleshy fruit
Example: 他慢慢咬去苹果皮，然后吃果肉。(tā mànmàn yǎoqù píngguǒpí ,ránhòu chī guǒròu.)
He nibbled away at the apple peel, then ate the flesh.
CANTONESE CORNER Conversation starters for Guangdongers
zau2 gai1 (走鸡). The meaning of this word is someone who misses a good chance for something. When we missed something good that we should have gotten, we can express our feelings by using this word. For example, on the first day of Spring Festival, all the staff got their red packets, but you forgot to take yours and you’d say,“I really missed a good chance (真系走鸡了! zan1 hai6 zau2 gai1 liu5!)!” (For zau, take the tone slightly higher, then take gai go back down low.)
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