Read Between the Lines: 15 Common Chinese Euphemisms
Unlocking the hidden mysteries of the Chinese language can be a fascinating journey. You’ve mastered countless words and sentence structures, yet there are times when comprehension eludes you. Imagine encountering a phrase like “我想去方便一下” and realizing that its meaning goes far beyond the literal translation. Have we piqued your curiosity? Then it’s time to delve into the realm of euphemisms— phrases that add layers of meaning and subtlety to language.
What are euphemisms?
Euphemisms are expressions that allow us to describe something inappropriate, uncomfortable, or unpleasant in a proper and polite manner.
Why do we need to learn Chinese euphemisms?
Learning euphemisms is a crucial piece of learning authentic Chinese, just like mastering Chinese idioms (成语chéngyǔ). Euphemisms not only test our comprehension of the language itself but also our understanding of Chinese culture and history. They serve as a pathway to reaching an advanced proficiency level.
In addition to building linguistic proficiency, euphemisms also serve a practical purpose. Creating a comfortable and respectful atmosphere contributes to positive conversations and relationships. Euphemisms play a vital role in this regard, allowing us to navigate tricky situations and avoid potential embarrassment or offense.
To help you become more familiar with this aspect of Chinese language and culture, let’s explore the nuances of these 15 common Chinese euphemisms.
- Chinese euphemisms for Going to the washroom (上厕所)
- Chinese euphemisms for Death (死)
- Chinese euphemisms for Suicide (自杀)
- Chinese euphemisms for Gaining weight (长胖了)
- Chinese euphemisms for Being poor (没钱)
- Chinese euphemisms for Disabilities (跛子)
- Chinese euphemisms for Sex (性爱)
- Chinese euphemisms for Menstruation(月经)
- Chinese euphemisms for Intoxication (喝醉)
- Chinese euphemisms for Pregnancy (怀孕)
- Chinese euphemisms for Extra-marital affairs (外遇)
- Chinese euphemisms for Getting Fired(解雇)
- Chinese euphemisms for Homosexuality (同性恋)
- Chinese Euphemisms for Sex workers (性工作者)
- Chinese euphemisms for Parents (父母)
1. Chinese euphemisms for going to the washroom (上厕所)
In certain situations, such as formal meetings or gatherings, it is preferable to refer to the restroom indirectly to avoid embarrassment and maintain good manners.
- 解手 (jiě shǒu)
- 方便一下 (fānɡbiàn yíxià)
One such euphemism is 解手(jiě shǒu), which literally means “to release the hands.” It originates from a historical anecdote from the Ming dynasty, where bound immigrants needed to relieve themselves on their journey. Requesting their captors loosen their restraints and untie their hands, they would use the phrase 解手(jiě shǒu) for simplicity and clarity. This expression has since been passed down to modern times.
Another euphemism is 方便一下 (fāngbiàn yíxià). The term 方便(fāngbiàn) is also related to using the washroom, as 大便(dàbiàn) means “defecation” and 小便(xiǎobiàn) means “urination”. Therefore, people use 方便(fāngbiàn) as a collective term for both.
对不起，我刚去解手了。(Duìbuqǐ, wǒ ɡānɡ qù jiě shǒu le.)
Sorry, I just went to the restroom.
水喝多了，我去方便一下。(Shuǐ hē duō le, wǒ qù fānɡbiàn yíxià.)
I drank too much water, so I have to go to the bathroom.
- 上大号 (dà hào)
- 上小号 (xiǎo hào)
As mentioned earlier, 大便(dàbiàn) refers to defecation, while 小便(xiǎobiàn) refers to urination. However, we can also use the terms 大号(dà hào) and 小号(xiǎo hào) respectively, as they sound more indirect and polite.
让我先去厕所，我要上大号。(Rànɡ wǒ xiān qù cèsuǒ, wǒ yào shànɡ dà hào.)
Let me go the toilet first, because I want to go number 2.
这个厕所坏了，不能上小号。(Zhèɡe cèsuǒ huài le, bù nénɡ shànɡ xiǎo hào.)
This toilet is broken, we can’t go number 1 here.
2. Chinese euphemisms for Death (死)
Euphemisms are commonly used when discussing the harsh topic of death.
- 去世了 (qù shì le)
- 走了 (zǒu le)
- 没了 (méi le)
- 不在了 (bú zài le)
One euphemism is 去世了 (qùshìle), which literally means “having left this world” and is equivalent to the English expression “pass away.” Similarly, 走了 (zǒule) meaning “to be gone,” 没了 (méile) meaning “to not exist anymore,” and 不在了 (bù zàile) meaning “to not be here anymore” can also signify someone’s departure from this world. Compared to 去世了(qùshìle), the others are more commonly used in everyday conversation.
他的家人因病去世了。(Tāde jiārén yīn bìnɡ qùshì le.)
His family member died of illness.
人早就没了，上个星期五就走了。(Rén zǎo jiù méi le, shànɡɡè xīnɡqīwǔ jiù zǒu le.)
The person had already passed away last Friday.
等到他回到家的时候，他奶奶已经不在了。(Děnɡdào tā huídào jiā de shíhou, tā nǎinɑi yǐjīnɡ bú zài le.)
His grandma had already passed away when he arrived at home.
- 仙逝 (xiān shì)
- 作古 (zuò ɡǔ)
In Chinese culture, when an elderly person passes away, we use the terms 作古(zuò gǔ) or 仙逝(xiān shì) to discuss their death. 作古(zuò gǔ) literally means “to become an ancient person,” serving as a euphemism for passing away. On the other hand, 仙逝(xiān shì) literally means “to leave the world like a fairy” and has connections with Daoism. In Daoism, individuals seek immortality, and when their aspirations are fulfilled, they depart from this world to a new realm. It’s worth noting that 作古(zuò gǔ) or 仙逝(xiān shì) can also be used in eulogies.
我昨晚好像在梦里见到了已作古的父母。(Wǒ zuówǎn hǎoxiànɡ zài mènɡlǐ jiàndào le yǐ zuòɡǔ de fùmǔ.)
I saw my deceased parents in my dreams last night.
那位老人在那个雨天仙逝了。(Nà wèi lǎorén zài nàɡè yǔtiān xiānshì le.) That old man passed away on that rainy day.
- 圆寂 (yuánjì)
Buddhism holds significance in Chinese culture, and a specific term is used to indicate the passing of a monk: 圆寂 (yuánjì).
大师已于上周圆寂了。(Dàshī yǐ yú shànɡzhōu yuánjì le.)
The master passed away last week.
- 挂了 (ɡuà le)
- 蹬腿了 (dēnɡ tuǐ le)
- 见阎王 (jiàn yánwánɡ)
Pay close attention to these three phrases as they may sound impolite and even somewhat offensive in certain cases. Use them with caution.
One such phrase is 挂了(guàle), which can also indicate someone’s death. Initially, it was used to describe dying in a game. With the increasing popularity of video games, the usage of 挂了(guàle) has extended to refer to the death of real-life people as well.
我刚进去这个游戏，三分钟不到就挂了。(Wǒ ɡānɡ jìnqù zhèɡe yóuxì, sān fēnzhōnɡ bú dào jiù ɡuà le.)
I just entered this game, and in less than three minutes, I died.
快点儿，等你去救人，人早就挂了。(Kuài diǎn’r, děnɡ nǐ qù jiù rén, rén zǎo jiù ɡuà le.)
Hurry up, when you arrived to save them, they had already died.
The vivid expression 蹬腿了 (dēng tuǐ le) is used to describe the act of kicking one’s legs when nearing death. It reflects the body’s natural physical reactions.
Furthermore, when we wish to convey that someone we have negative feelings towards has passed away, we use the phrase 见阎王 (jiàn Yán Wáng), which means “going to see the god of death.” In Chinese mythology, it is believed that the deceased go to the realm of the god of death. Hence, 见阎王(jiàn Yán Wáng) is used to describe the death of someone whom we dislike or hate.
你来晚了，她已经蹬腿了。(Nǐ láiwǎn le, tā yǐjīnɡ dēnɡ tuǐ le.)
You’re late, she has already passed away.
祝你早日见阎王！(Zhù nǐ zǎorì jiàn yánwánɡ!)
Hope you go see the god of death as soon as possible!
他们去见阎王了！(Tāmen qù jiàn yánwánɡ le!)
They have gone to see the god of death!
3. Chinese euphemisms for Suicide (自杀)
- 轻生 (qīnɡ shēnɡ)
- 自我了断 (zìwǒ liǎoduàn)
One euphemism for suicide is 轻生 (qīngshēng), which literally means “light life.” It is used to indirectly convey that someone doesn’t value their own life and wishes to end it. Another similar expression is 自我了断 (zì wǒ liǎo duàn), which translates to “self-deprecating.”
我刚看到有人在楼上想轻生。(Wǒ ɡānɡ kàndào yǒu rén zài lóushànɡ xiǎnɡ qīnɡshēnɡ.)
I just saw someone upstairs who wanted to attempt suicide.
我没办法了，不如自我了断算了。(Wǒ méi bànfǎ le, bùrú zìwǒ liǎoduàn suàn le.)
I have no choice, and I may as well commit suicide.
4. Chinese euphemisms for Gaining weight (长胖了)
- 圆润 (yuánrùn)
When referring to someone who has gained weight, we avoid saying “you became fat” directly. Instead, we can use the term 圆润(yuán rùn). 圆润(yuán rùn) literally means “rounded,” describing the rounder shape of someone’s body without being offensive. It is similar to the term “roly-poly” in English.
最近日子过得挺好啊，你看起来越来越圆润了。(Zuìjìn rìzi ɡuòde tǐnɡ hǎo’ ā, nǐ kàn qǐlái yuè lái yuè yuánrùn le.)
You have had a nice life recently, so you look rounder and rounder.
少吃点，你越来越圆润了。(Shǎo chī diǎn, nǐ yuè lái yuè yuánrùn le.)
Try to eat a little less because you’re becoming rounder and rounder.
- 发福 (fāfú)
Another similar term is 发福 (fā fú), which means “to get lucky.” In ancient times, when food was scarce, thinness was common among the general population while wealthier individuals appeared plumper. Therefore, people associated a fat appearance with a prosperous life. 发福(fā fú) was used to indicate that someone was living a wealthy life. However, in modern times, as people’s values have changed, the positive connotation of 发福(fā fú) is gradually fading away, and it is more commonly used to simply mean that someone is fat.
他这几年发福得厉害，完全变样了。(Tā zhè jǐ nián fāfú de lìhɑi, wánquán biàn yànɡ le.)
He has gained a lot of weight in recent years, and he looks completely different now.
减肥吧，发福后有点儿难看。(Jiǎn féi bɑ, fāfú hòu yǒu diǎn’r nán kàn.)
Lose some weight, you don’t look so good after gaining some extra pounds.
5. Chinese euphemisms for being poor (没钱)
When someone is unable to repay others or has borrowed money, they won’t directly say “I don’t have any money” to avoid losing face. Instead, they use more indirect expressions.
- 手头不方便 (shǒutóu bù fānɡbiàn)
- 手头有点儿紧 (shǒutóu yǒu diǎn’r jǐn)
One common expression is 手头不方便(shǒu tóu bù fāng biàn), which translates to “my hands aren’t convenient.” This phrase, derived from the renowned Chinese novel “Nie Hai Hua,” serves as a universal way to say “I don’t have any money.” Similarly, 手头有点儿紧(shǒu tóu yǒu diǎn er jǐn), meaning “my hands are a bit tight,” can also be used to express the same meaning.
最近手头有点儿紧，能先借我点儿钱吗？(Zuìjìn shǒutóu yǒu diǎn’r jǐn, nénɡ xiān jiè wǒ diǎn’r qián mɑ?)
I’m tapped out lately, could you lend me some money?
对不起，最近手头不太方便，能过几天再还钱吗？(Duìbuqǐ, zuìjìn shǒutóu bú tài fānɡbiàn, nénɡ ɡuò jǐ tiān zài huán qián mɑ?)
Sorry, I am a bit short on cash recently, can I pay you back in a few days?
- 囊中羞涩 (nánɡ zhōnɡ xiūsè)
Another expression used to convey being short on money is 囊中羞涩(náng zhōng xiū sè). This idiom combines the term 囊(náng), which refers to a pocket, with 羞涩(xiū sè), meaning “embarrassing.” So, 囊中羞涩(náng zhōng xiū sè) literally means “embarrassing in the pocket.” It is commonly used in written Chinese to express a lack of funds, while 手头有点儿紧(shǒu tóu yǒu diǎn er jǐn) and 手头不方便(shǒu tóu bù fāng biàn) are more colloquial alternatives.
我想去参加活动，但是囊中羞涩，所以你们自己去吧。(Wǒ xiǎnɡ qù cānjiā huódònɡ, dànshì nánɡ zhōnɡ xiūsè, suǒyǐ nǐmen zìjǐ qù bɑ.)
I want to join the activity, but I’m short on money, so you just go by yourselves.
他想买一块月饼，但是囊中羞涩，买不了。(Tā xiǎnɡ mǎi yí kuài yuèbǐnɡ, dànshì nánɡzhǒnɡ xiūsè, mǎibuliǎo.)
He wants to buy a piece of mooncake, but he doesn’t have any money, so he can’t buy it.
6. Chinese euphemisms for Disabilities (跛子)
- 腿脚不便 (tuǐ jiǎo bú biàn)
- 行动不便 (xínɡdònɡ bú biàn)
Directly calling someone a 跛子(bǒ zi), or cripple, when they have difficulty walking is considered rude. Instead, people use more indirect or intangible expressions to describe such situations. For example, they may say 腿脚不便(tuǐ jiǎo bù biàn) or 行动不便(xíng dòng bù biàn), which describe the condition of individuals who experience difficulties with their legs or mobility, but in a less offensive manner.
他因为小时候生病，所以现在腿脚不便。(Tā yīnwèi xiǎo shíhou shēnɡ bìnɡ, suǒyǐ xiànzài tuǐ jiǎo bú biàn.)
He has trouble walking because he was sick when he was a child.
因为她行动不便，她的同学经常帮她带午饭。(Yīnwèi tā xínɡdònɡ bú biàn, tāde tónɡxué jīnɡchánɡ bānɡ tā dài wǔfàn.)
Her classmates often help her bring lunch because she has difficulty moving.
7. Chinese euphemisms for Sex (性爱)
In Chinese culture, sex is not commonly discussed directly as it is considered a private matter. Instead, people prefer to appreciate the romantic aspect of it. As a result, there are some ambiguous terms used to refer to “making love.”
- 同房 (tónɡfánɡ)
- 发生关系 (fāshēnɡ ɡuānxi)
- 上床 (shànɡ chuánɡ)
- 爱爱 (àiài)
One such term is 同房(tóng fáng), which literally means “in the same room” and is similar to “sleeping together” in English. Another term is 上床(shàng chuáng), which literally means “go to bed” and also implies the act of sex. 发生关系(fā shēng guān xì) literally means “have relations” and carries the same meaning as in English. Additionally, some people nowadays use the cute and indirect expression 爱爱(ài ài), derived from the term “making love” (做爱, zuò ài).
他们早就同房了。(Tāmen zǎo jiù tónɡ fánɡ le.)
They have already slept together.
你是不是跟她上过床了？(Nǐ shì bu shì ɡēn tā shànɡɡuo chuánɡ le?) Have you already slept with her or not?
我们之间没有发生过关系。(Wǒmen zhījiān méiyǒu fāshēnɡɡuo ɡuānxi.) We didn’t have sexual relations.
爱爱之前他们总是要先吃顿饭。(Àiài zhīqián tāmen zǒnɡshì yào xiān chī dùn fàn.)
Before making love, they always have a meal first.
- 鱼水之欢 (yú shuǐ zhī huān)
- 云雨 (yún yǔ)
In ancient China, people used various metaphors to describe making love. Two common expressions were 鱼水之欢(yú shuǐ zhī huān) and 云雨(yún yǔ). 鱼水之欢(yú shuǐ zhī huān) originates from the renowned novel “Xi Xiang Ji” and represents the intimate relationship between fish and water. It metaphorically depicts the harmonious and intimate emotions experienced during sexual encounters between men and women. On the other hand, 云雨(yún yǔ) directly translates to “clouds and rain” and is derived from the famous Chinese essay “Gao Tang Fu.” This expression elegantly and vividly captures the love and physical intimacy shared between a man and a woman, making it a common term used in ancient novels to describe sexual intercourse. These metaphors have been passed down through the ages and are still used today.
昨晚他们一番云雨到半夜。(Zuó wǎn tāmen yì fān yún yǔ dào bàn yè.)
Last night, they engaged in passionate lovemaking until midnight.
时间不早了，我们去共享鱼水之欢吧。(Shíjiān bù zǎo le, women qù ɡònɡxiǎnɡ yú shuǐ zhī huān bɑ.)
It’s getting late, let’s go and enjoy the intimacy between us.
- 圆房 (yuán fánɡ)
- 洞房 (dònɡ fánɡ)
When two people get married and engage in sexual intimacy, it can be referred to as “entering the bridal chamber” or 圆房(yuán fánɡ) in Chinese. In the past, 圆房(yuán fánɡ) specifically denoted the consummation of a marriage when young girls reached a certain age after being sent to their in-laws’ homes. Nowadays, it generally signifies couples having sex sometime after their wedding. Similarly, 洞房(dònɡ fánɡ) originated from an essay from the Tang dynasty and initially referred to the wedding chamber. This meaning has been preserved, and now it is also used to describe the act of making love.
你们还没圆房啊？(Nǐmen hái méi yuán fánɡ ā?)
Haven’t you consummated your marriage yet?
送新郎、新娘入洞房！(Sònɡ xīnlánɡ, xīnniánɡ rù dònɡfánɡ!)
Take the bride and groom to the bridal chamber!
8. Chinese euphemisms for Menstruation(月经)
- 大姨妈 (dà yímā)
- 例假 (lìjià)
- 来事儿了 (lái shìr le)
The term 大姨妈(dà yímā) literally means “older aunt” and is used to refer to “that time of the month” or menstruation. The origin of this term can be traced back to a story from the Han Dynasty. There was a girl who was in love with a young man, but she would always use the excuse that her older aunt was visiting whenever he wanted to kiss her. On their wedding night, when the young man saw the girl’s menstrual blood, he asked what was wrong, and she told him that her older aunt had come. As a result, the young man refrained from having sex. Since then, 大姨妈(dà yímā) has been used to refer to menstruation. Additionally, because menstruation occurs regularly every month, it is also called 例假(lìjià) in Chinese. In some regions, people simply say 来事儿了(lái shìr le) to imply menstruation without explicitly mentioning it.
来例假了，不舒服。(Lái lìjià le, bù shūfu.)
I felt unwell during my period.
我昨天刚来事儿了。(Wǒ zuótiān ɡānɡ lái shì’r le.)
My period came yesterday.
我不去游泳了，大姨妈来了。(Wǒ bú qù yóuyǒnɡ le, dà yímā lái le.)
I’m not going swimming because my period came.
9. Chinese euphemisms for Intoxication (喝醉)
- 喝多了 (hē duō le)
- 喝高了 (hē ɡāo le)
In fact, people still say 喝醉了(hē zuì le) to directly express that someone was drunk. Alternatively, there are two simple euphemisms to describe this situation: 喝多了(hē duō le) meaning “drank too much,” and 喝高了(hē ɡāo le) meaning “drank high.”
别喝了，你喝多了。(Bié hē le, nǐ hē duō le.)
Don’t drink anymore since you’re drunk.
你送他回去吧，他喝高了。(Nǐ sònɡ tā huíqù bɑ, tā hē ɡāo le.)
You should take him back home; he’s drunk.
10. Chinese euphemisms for Pregnancy (怀孕)
- 有了 (yǒu le)
- 有喜了 (yǒu xǐ le)
Actually, people mostly say 怀孕了 (huáiyùn le) to directly indicate that someone is pregnant, so there are only two simple euphemisms for this situation: “有了” and “有喜了”. The former means “having” while the latter means “having something good and happy” since pregnancy is considered a joyful and wonderful thing.
有了有了，两个月了。(Yǒu le yǒu le, liǎnɡɡè yuè le.)
She’s two-months pregnant.
别担心，她这是有喜了。(Bié dānxīn, tā zhè shì yǒu xǐ le.)
Don’t be worried, she is just pregnant.
11. Chinese euphemisms for Extra-marital affairs (外遇)
- 出轨 (chū ɡuǐ)
- 劈腿 (pī tuǐ)
- 小三 (xiǎo sān)
- 第三者 (dì sān zhě)
When someone is romantically involved with multiple people at the same time, we can use a comical term, 劈腿(pī tuǐ), which primarily refers to a person’s unfaithfulness. However, when such a situation occurs within a marriage, we can also use 出轨(chū guǐ). 出轨(chū guǐ) literally means “derailed” or “off the rail,” metaphorically describing actions or thoughts that deviate from the norms of a marriage. The person in a relationship with someone who is already married is called 小三(xiǎo sān) or 第三者(dì sān zhě), similar to the terms “the other woman” or “the other man” in English.
他老婆出轨了。(Tā lǎo pó chū ɡuǐ le.)
His wife had an affair.
我被劈腿了。(Wǒ bèi pī tuǐ le.)
I was betrayed.
你想当小三，就给我滚出去。(Nǐ xiǎnɡ dānɡ xiǎo sān, jiù ɡěi wǒ ɡǔn chūqu.)
If you want to be a mistress, then just get out of here.
我不是第三者，你认错人了吧。(Wǒ bú shì dì sān zhě, nǐ rèn cuò rén le bɑ.)
I’m not the other woman, you’re mistaken.
12. Chinese euphemisms for Getting Fired(解雇)
- 炒了 (chǎo le)
- 炒鱿鱼 (chǎo yóuyú)
The phrase for getting fired, 炒鱿鱼(chǎo yóu yú), literally means “fried squid”. But why do we use this phrase to refer to being let go? Historically, when someone was fired, they would roll up their bedding and leave. Later on, people noticed that when cooking squid, each piece would slowly curl up into a cylindrical shape, resembling the rolled-up bedding.This association led people to use 炒鱿鱼(chǎo yóu yú) to describe someone being dismissed. 炒了 (chǎo le) is the shortened form of this expression.
他因为经常上班迟到，刚被炒了。(Tā yīnwèi jīnɡchánɡ shànɡ bān chídào, ɡānɡ bèi chǎo le.)
He was often late for work and was fired just now.
他们那批人因为业绩不好，都被炒鱿鱼了。(Tāmen nà pī rén yīnwèi yèjì bù hǎo, dōu bèi chǎo yóuyú le.)
Those people were fired because of their poor performance.
- 丢饭碗 (diū fànwǎn)
The phrase 丢饭碗 (diū fàn wǎn) literally means “lose the bowl”. Since people need to work to support themselves, a job is like a bowl that provides food. This expression is used to mean “lose your job,” and it originated from the well-known novel “Nan Guo Feng Yan.”
他不敢说话，还不是因为怕丢了饭碗。(Tā bù ɡǎn shuō huà, hái búshì yīnwèi pà diū le fànwǎn.)
He didn’t dare to speak, because he was afraid of losing his job.
丢饭碗也没什么，我们可以再找其他的工作。(Diū fànwǎn yě méi shénme, women kěyǐ zài zhǎo qítāde ɡōnɡzuò.)
Losing your job is nothing big, we can find other jobs.
13. Chinese euphemisms for Homosexuality (同性恋)
- 同志 (tónɡzhì)
- 弯 (wān)
- 出柜 (chū ɡuì)
The term 同志 (tóngzhì) literally means “having the same pursuit” and is commonly used as a form of address among people working in an organization. It first appeared as a synonym for homosexuals in Hong Kong during the 1970s and 1980s. The word 弯(wān) is similar to “bent” in English and is also used to refer to gay people. Lastly, 出柜(chū guì) comes from the English phrase “come out of the closet.”
他是弯的，他出柜了。(Tā shì wān de, tā chū ɡuì le.) He is homosexual, and he came out of the closet.
14. Chinese Euphemisms for Sex workers (性工作者)
- 小姐 (xiǎojiě)
- 鸡 (jī)
- 鸭 (yā)
The term 小姐(xiǎojiě) literally means “miss” or “lady”. It is a word that you may have encountered when you first started learning Chinese. However, it’s important to use this term carefully because it is also used to refer to female sex workers. Another term, 鸡(jī), is a homonym for 妓(jì) in the word 妓女(jì nǚ, prostitute), so people also use 鸡(jī) to refer to women in the sex industry. On the other hand, 鸭(yā) is used to refer to male sex workers.
找小姐是犯法的。(Zhǎo xiǎojiě shì fàn fǎ de.) It is illegal to look for an escort.
她是个鸡，而他是个鸭，但是他们相爱了。(Tā shì ɡè jī, ér tā shì ɡè yā, dànshì tāmen xiāng`ài le.) She is an escort while he is a male prostitute. But they fall in love with each other.
15. Chinese euphemisms for Parents (父母)
- 令尊 (lìnɡ zūn)
- 令堂 (lìnɡ tánɡ)
- 高堂 (ɡāo tánɡ)
When engaging in a conversation, how can we respectfully refer to other people’s parents? In such situations, we can use 令尊(lìng zūn) to address someone’s father, and 令堂(lìng táng) for their mother. The term 令(lìng) serves as a respectful form of address for other people’s relatives. 令尊(lìng zūn) and 令堂(lìng táng) are commonly used in formal settings or when elders are present.
On the other hand, when speaking to others, we can use 高堂(gāo táng) to refer to our own parents. This term originates from ancient familial houses, where the parents’ living quarters were often called a 高堂(gāo táng) or “high hall house.” They were typically located in the center of the house with higher floors and roofs compared to other rooms. Ancient children would use 高堂(gāo táng) to show respect for their parents, especially in the presence of outsiders. Therefore, 高堂(gāo táng) can be used to refer to the parents’ living space or the parents themselves, primarily in written Chinese.
令尊和令堂最近身体还好吗？(Lìnɡ zūn hé lìnɡ tánɡ zuìjìn shēntǐ hái hǎo mɑ?) Have your parents been in good health lately?
君不见，高堂明镜悲白发, 朝如青丝暮成雪。(Jūn bú jiàn, ɡāotánɡ mínɡ jìnɡ bēi báifà, cháo rú qīnɡsī mù chénɡ xuě.)
Do you not see the mirrors bright in chambers high
Grieve o’er your snow-white hair
though once it was silk-black?
(excerpt from poem “Qiang Jin Jiu” written by Li Bai in the Tang Dynasty)
The Chinese language is rich with euphemisms that reflect the cultural nuances and sensitivities around various topics. These expressions serve as a way to convey messages indirectly, avoiding harsh or offensive language. From discussing financial situations to delicate matters of intimacy, euphemisms provide a subtle and tactful means of communication in Chinese culture.
By understanding and using these euphemisms appropriately, you can navigate social interactions with grace and respect. Whether you’re referring to someone’s parents or discussing sensitive topics, such as disabilities or relationships, choosing the right words can make a significant difference in fostering understanding and maintaining harmonious relationships.
As language and cultural dynamics continue to evolve, it is important to approach conversations with sensitivity and cultural awareness. While some euphemisms may remain consistent over time, others may adapt or change with societal shifts.
So, the next time you find yourself engaging with Chinese people, remember the power of euphemisms to convey subtle messages and navigate sensitive conversations.
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