The value of comedy is something that’s not always appreciated. Most language learning programs prioritize dull memorization, but there’s so much that this misses! To truly understand a language and culture, you need to appreciate their slang, their idioms, and what makes the members of that culture laugh.
What’s more, people around the world have more similar humor than you realize; you’re going to find a lot of common ground in the process. You’re learning their language, so go a step further and familiarize yourself with their culture and gain the insight offered by understanding what they consider to be funny. It’ll build up your vocabulary, and refine your communication with native speakers of Mandarin Chinese. Language is composed of accents, dialects, common phrases and jokes, etc.; so much more than phrases in a book and rote definitions.
Appreciating the humor of a new culture also helps you break the ice and make friends with native speakers; having the right phrase on hand and the right time goes a long way to making friends more easily. Furthermore, it’s just plain fun; Learning Mandarin is no easy task, so have a good time with it and enjoy yourself.
To get you started, I’ve put together this list of idioms, slang, and sayings in Mandarin Chinese. Some are tacky, some are so cheesy you’d think to find them in French rather than Chinese, and a couple are actually funny; but they’re all fun practice to expand your Chinese and have a good time while doing it.
These characters can be displayed in the Latin alphabet as chén yú or luò yàn. Essentially, it has a meaning similar to ‘drop dead gorgeous’ in English. Drop dead gorgeous is a term employed when describing an extremely beautiful woman, or an extremely handsome man, who is so attractive they can kill with their looks. It is a bit of a curious compliment, and the Chinese origins themselves are quite odd and vague. Just think of it: You’re complimenting someone by calling them so beautiful that their looks will murder people.
That said, the Mandarin version is quite a bit stranger. 沉鱼落雁 translates to Romaji English as “Sinking fish, dropping goose.” That is, “So beautiful as to make the fish sink bring the geese falling from the sky.” The idiom was born with author Zhuāng Zǐ, an ancient author of Taoist origin who wrote many things relating to fish.
That said, bizarre as this term is, your typical, young Chinese person won’t casually use it in normal conversation. But still – it’s such a strange, bizarre idiom that you just really should know it.
What are you going to do to my horse?! “Ass-kisser” “toadie” and “lapdog” are often said in Western nations as ways to refer to someone who treats their superiors with especial kindness as a means to ingratiate themselves. In Chinese, you can refer to this brown noser as a person that is 拍马屁; a person who smacks a horse’s rear.
This is a common term, often used in casual conversation. Both outside context and in context, it’s a truly hilarious little idiom.
If you run into a mean-tempered, choleric character or you offend someone with insults and trash talk, a common expression is 你皮子痒. It means, “your skin appears itchy.” when you or someone else use this expression, it’s because you desire to get violent with them.
Don’t get all wet with this one. 落汤鸡, means “drop soup chicken.” That is “chicken that trips into the soup” as a way to describe someone who gets stuck in the rain or who falls and trips into water.
“I’ve got money, I can do as I please” is either used by the rich Chinese person or is used to describe the everyman who acts without caution upon receiving their paycheck.
The idiom is actually rooted in a real life event that grew into a popular meme a few years ago. A rich man was scammed by a pharmaceutical company, and he didn’t pull out even when he knew he was being cheated. He was so wealthy that the money didn’t matter, and he exercised his curiosity to see what way they’d defraud him next.
A frequently used, fairly hilarious Mandarin insult is 傻蛋. It measn “stupid egg” and when used among friends and family it might just be for fun. Among strangers and family, though, it can be cause for a fight.
This means “two hundred fifty”, and it’s an often employed insult in Mandarion with much context to understand before you understand it.
The insult and its meaning is traced back towards an old story that focuses on a Chinese king. A close friend of the king was murdered in the night, and the king intended to discover the assassin. He posted a bounty and had it spread far and wide throughout the land, requesting that someone murder his already deceased friend. The killers showed up to claim their money, which amounted to a reward of 250 coins for each of them.
In doing so, they blew their cover and it became known that they were the people who murdered the friend of the king. As a result, ‘two hundred fifty’ is used to describe a person that does a stupid, questionably safe thing.
There are many, many terms used in the West for women that enjoy gossip and intruding upon the lives and the business of others. The Mandarin term for such a woman is 长舌妇. It means “woman with long tongue”, and sounds a bit like an anime or Godzilla monster from Japan, rather than a gossipy woman.
It’s only a single word and quite a simple one, but it has many obscure uses and a curious history. It has no official character in the Chinee alphabet to identify it, and is a slang phrase used on the internet. It can be an excited exclamation like ‘Wow!’, it can refer to a boring thing, or it can be used to describe the sound of tripping.
The word is used extremely often throughout China, although no one knows the origin for certain. Jackie Chan once did a commercial for shampoo, and stated ‘Duang!’ to express how great the shampoo was. From there, it became a popular online sensation. Enjoy these nine phrases on the beginning of your journey to learn Chinese quickly with funny phrases!