You may have mastered tons of Chinese words and know all the key sentence structures, but sometimes you still can’t understand much of what you hear or read. For example, do you know the meaning of “我想去方便一下”. We’ve learned that “方便” means convenient; however it absolutely doesn’t mean that here. Why? That has something to do with the euphemisms we will talk about today.
- What are euphemisms?
Euphemisms are expressions we can use to describe something inappropriate, uncomfortable, or unpleasant in a proper and polite way.
- Why do we need to learn Chinese euphemisms?
Like Chinese idioms (成语chéngyǔ), euphemisms are essential criteria to confirm if our Chinese is authentic or not. Euphemisms not only test our understanding of pure Chinese language, which is of course the foundation, but also the culture and history. So, euphemisms are a path we must tread when moving to an advanced level.
A comfortable and respectful atmosphere can make a conversation more successful. So, there is another practical reason for us to use euphemisms. They can help us avoid embarrassing and uncomfortable circumstances and can prevent us from offending people.
To help you with these expressions, we’ve prepared 15 types of polite euphemisms you should know.
- 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 Having no money (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 some circumstances, like a formal meeting or gathering, we would like to use an indirect way to refer to the restroom in order to avoid embarrassment and maintain good manners.
- 解手 (jiě shǒu)
- 方便一下 (fānɡbiàn yíxià)
“解手” literally means to “release the hands”, which originates from a historical story. In the Ming dynasty, bound immigrants needed to defecate or urinate on the way, so they would ask their captors to loosen their restraints and untie their hands. For the sake of simplicity and clarity, they called for “解手”(to release the hands), and gradually “解手” has been passed down to modern times.
“方便” also has something to do with using the washroom because defecation is “大便”, while urination is “小便”, so people also use “方便” to mean defecation and urination collectively.
对不起，我刚去解手了。(Duìbuqǐ, wǒ ɡānɡ qù jiě shǒu le.)
Sorry, I went to wash my hands.
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 we said above, “大便” means defecation, while “小便” means urination, but we can also use “大号” and “小号” accordingly because 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)
Death is a universal topic where euphemisms are used.
- 去世了 (qù shì le)
- 走了 (zǒu le)
- 没了 (méi le)
- 不在了 (bú zài le)
“去世了” literally means having “left this world”, which is equivalent to the expression pass away in English. Likewise, “走了” (to be gone) “没了” (to not exist anymore) and “不在了” (to not be here anymore) can also indicate someone has disappeared from the world. Compared to“去世了”, “走了” “没了” and “不在了” are more colloquial.
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 dies, we can use “作古” or “仙逝” to discuss their death. “作古” literally translates to “become an ancient person”, which euphemistically expresses passing away. “仙逝” literally means “someone left the world like a fairy”, which has a relationship with Daoism. In Daoism, people pursue immortality, and when their dreams come true, they will leave this world and go to another new world. One thing we should pay attention to is that “作古” and “仙逝” can also be used in a eulogy.
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 is an important part in Chinese culture. And there is a fixed word “圆寂” to express that a monk has passed away.
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. They sound not very polite and even a little cursing in some cases. Use them carefully.
“挂了” can also indicate death. At the very beginning, it was used to refer to dying in a game, and since video games have become more and more popular, the usage of “挂了” is also becoming more and more extensive, and even can be used to talk about the death of a person.
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 I died within three minutes.
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, if we wait for you to rescue people, they will have already died.
When someone is at the edge of death, they may kick their legs because of the natural reactions of their body, so we use a vivid expression “蹬腿了” to describe death. And when we want to express that someone we dislike or hate is dead, we can say “见阎王” which means “going to see the god of death”. In Chinese mythology, only dead people will go the hell and see the god of death. So, we use “见阎王” to express that someone has died.
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)
“轻生” literally means “light life”, which is an indirect way to express that someone doesn’t value their life that they want to end it. Another similar expression about suicide is “自我了断” literally meaning “self-deprecating”.
我刚看到有人在楼上想轻生。(Wǒ ɡānɡ kàndào yǒu rén zài lóushànɡ xiǎnɡ qīnɡshēnɡ.)
I saw someone upstairs who wanted to attempt suicide just now.
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)
To express that someone has gained weight, we don’t directly say “you became fat”. Instead, we can use “圆润”. “圆润” literally means “rounded”, vividly describing the shape of someone’s body becoming rounder and rounder, but not that offensively. It is similar to “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 word is “发福” meaning “to get lucky”. In ancient times, many Chinese people didn’t have enough food. They looked very skinny, but rich people looked fatter. So, people thought that if a person looks fat, it may be because they’re rich. Back then, people used “发福” to say that a person lives a rich life. However, nowadays, with the rapid development of people’s lives and changing values, “发福” is gradually losing its lucky meaning and more often purely means 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 becomes very fat these years, so his look has totally changed.
减肥吧，发福后有点儿难看。(Jiǎn féi bɑ, fāfú hòu yǒu diǎn’r nán kàn.)
You’d better lose weight because you look ugly now that you’re fat.
5. Chinese euphemisms for Having no money (没钱)
When someone has no money to pay others back or has had to borrow money from others, they won’t directly say “I don’t have any money” because it is a matter of losing face. People tend to use a more indirect way to say it.
- 手头不方便 (shǒutóu bù fānɡbiàn)
- 手头有点儿紧 (shǒutóu yǒu diǎn’r jǐn)
“手头不方便” means “my hands aren’t convenient” which is a pretty universal expression for “I don’t have money”. It originated from a renowned Chinese novel Nie Hai Hua. Similar to “手头不方便”, “手头有点儿紧”, which literally means “my hands are kind of 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 recently, 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 short of cash recently, can I pay you back in a few days?
- 囊中羞涩 (nánɡ zhōnɡ xiūsè)
“囊中羞涩.” This idiom can also be used to express that “I have no money”. “囊” indicates the pocket, while “羞涩” means “embarrassing”, so “囊中羞涩” literally means “it’s embarrassing in the pocket”. “囊中羞涩” is often used in written Chinese, while “手头有点儿紧” and “手头不方便” are more colloquial.
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 of 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 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)
It is very rude to call someone “跛子”, or cripple, directly when someone is has difficulty walking . People will use more indirect or intangible expressions for it, like “腿脚不便” or “行动不便” , which describe the state of people who have trouble with their legs or movement, but with less offense.
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 isn’t a thing people like to talk about directly since we think it’s private and prefer to enjoy the beauty of a romantic mood, which is different from western culture. So, we have some ambiguous terms to say “make love”.
- 同房 (tónɡfánɡ)
- 发生关系 (fāshēnɡ ɡuānxi)
- 上床 (shànɡ chuánɡ)
- 爱爱 (àiài)
“同房” literally means “in the same room”, which is similar to “sleep together” in English. For “sleep together”, there is another word, “上床”, which literally means “go to bed”. “发生关系” literally means “have relations”, which is the same in English. Nowadays, coming from the expression “making love” (做爱), some people will use a cute and indirect expression: “爱爱”.
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 Chinese, people used other images as a metaphor of making love. “鱼水之欢” and “云雨” are two common expressions. “鱼水之欢” comes from a renowned novel, Xi Xiang Ji, andtakes the meaning of the intimate relationship between fish and water. It is a metaphor for the intimate and harmonious emotions of the sexual lives among men and women. “云雨” meaning “making love” comes from a renowned Chinese essay, Gao Tang Fu. Since it describes the love between a male and a female both vividly and elegantly, “云雨” has become a common word in ancient novels to describe the intercourse between men and women, and it has been passed down till now.
昨晚他们一番云雨到半夜。(Zuó wǎn tāmen yì fān yún yǔ dào bàn yè.) Last night they made love 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 not too early. et’s go and share the joy of making love.
- 圆房 (yuán fánɡ)
- 洞房 (dònɡ fánɡ)
When two people get married, and they go to make love, then we can say “圆房” or “洞房”. For “圆房”, in the old days, young girls who were sent to their in-laws’ homes were called “child brides-in-law”, and they would complete the marriage when the young girls were old enough. This action is called “圆房”. Now it’s used to refer to couples that do not have sex on their wedding day, but have sex sometime after their marriage. “洞房” comes from the famous essay Chang Men Fu, and began as an expression for the wedding chambre during the Tang dynasty, and this meaning has been passed down until now. Now people also use “洞房” to refer to the action of making love. “入洞房” (to enter the bridal chamber) is a frequently used expression.
你们还没圆房啊？(Nǐmen hái méi yuán fánɡ ā?)
Haven’t you consummated 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)
“大姨妈” literally means “older aunt”, which is used to referred to “that time of the month”. But why do we use “大姨妈”? It is said that in the Han Dynasty, a girl lived who with her older aunt fell in love with a young man, and he wanted to kiss her every time he went to her house. The girl always said that her older aunt was coming because of shyness, and then the young man just gave up every time. On their wedding night, when the young man wanted to have sex, he saw the girl’s menstrual blood, asked what was wrong, and the girl said that her older aunt came. The boy just stopped having sex. So, later on, people use “大姨妈” to refer to menstruation And because menstruation happens every month, like a routine, it’s also called “例假” in Chinese. In some places, people also call it “来事儿了” without having to mention the exact words.
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 express that “someone was drunk” directly. Otherwise, there are two simple euphemisms to describe this circumstance. They are “喝多了”and “喝高了”. the former means “drank too much”, while the latter is “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 send him back, because he drank beyond his limits.
10. Chinese euphemisms for Pregnancy (怀孕)
- 有了 (yǒu le)
- 有喜了 (yǒu xǐ le)
In fact, most people still say “怀孕了” (huáiyùn le) when someone is pregnant, so there are just two simple euphemisms for this occasion . They are “有了” and “有喜了”. The former means “to have”, while the latter means “to have something good and happy” since pregnancy is a happy and great 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 word, “劈腿”, which is mainly used to describe a person’s physical derailment. But when it happens in a marriage, we can also use “出轨”. “出轨” literally means “derailed” or “off the rail”, which is a metaphor for when someone’s actions or thoughts are outside the norm in a marriage. The person who is involved with someone in a relationship or marriage is called “小三” or “第三者”, similar to the other woman or 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 you just get out 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 mistress, you’re mistaken.
12. Chinese euphemisms for Getting Fired(解雇)
- 炒了 (chǎo le)
- 炒鱿鱼 (chǎo yóuyú)
“炒鱿鱼” literally means “fried squid”. But why is the phrase for getting fired “炒鱿鱼” ? Historically, people who were fired would roll up their covers and leave, but later on, people suddenly found that when cooking squid, each piece would slowly roll up into a cylindrical shape. It was similar to the shape of the rolled-up cover and the rolling process was also very similar. So people have an association between the two, and started to use “炒鱿鱼” (fried squid) to say that someone was dismissed. “炒了” is the shortened form of “炒鱿鱼” which is similar to “fired” in English.
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)
“丢饭碗” literally means “lose the bowl”. People need to work to make a living, so a job is like our bowl for eating. This phrase is used to say, “lose your job”, and it originated from the famous long 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)
“同志” literally means “having the same pursuit” and is generally used as a normal appellation among people working in an organization. As a synonym for homosexuals, it first appeared in Hong Kong in the 1970s and 1980s. The word “弯” is similar to “bent” in English and is also used to refer to gay people. Finally, “出柜” comes from “come out of the closet” in English.
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)
“小姐” literally means “miss” or “lady”. It is a word you may have seen when you started learning Chinese at the very beginning, and hopefully your teacher has told you that you should use it carefully because it is also a way to talk about prostitutes. Another term, “鸡” is a homonym for “妓” (jì) in the word “妓女” (escort), so people also refer to those women as “鸡”. Contrary to “鸡”, people use “鸭” to refer to male prostitutes.
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 in a conversation, how do you refer to other people’s parents in a respectful way? In this situation, we can use “令尊” and “令堂”. “令尊” is respectful term to call other people’s fathers, while “令堂” is for other people’s mothers. “令” is a respectful form of address for other people’s the relatives.. “令尊” and “令堂” are more often used in formal circumstances or meetings where elders are present.
When talking to others, we can use “高堂” to refer to our own parents. That’s because in ancient families, the parents’ room is generally called a “高堂” (the high hall house), which is in the middle of the house, and its floor and roof are relatively higher than other rooms. Because ancient children wanted to show their respect for their parents, and in front of outsiders, they do not directly say their parents and call them “高堂”. Therefore, “高堂” is used to refer to the place where the parents live, or to refer to the parents themselves, which is more often used 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 your parents seated in front of the bright mirrors and sighed about grieve over in the evening though once it was silk-black in the morning? (excerpt from poem Qiang Jin Jiu, written by Li Bai in the Tang Dynasty)
That’s all for our euphemisms today. Now you can try to familiarize yourself with them, and we hope they will help you a lot in your future studies or life. Once again, let’s go back to the question at the very beginning, do you know the meaning of “我想去方便一下” now?