Meat is not always meat – The most common expressions with “肉” in Chinese
In Chinese, you will frequently encounter words that contain the character “肉” (ròu). This is because food plays a significant role in people’s daily lives, and “肉” is an important ingredient in Chinese cuisine. Therefore, it appears in the names of many dishes and is even linked with fruit. In addition to its literal usage, people also use it in slang or to describe abstract concepts, such as personal characteristics. To help you understand this concept better, here are some commonly used phrases that include “肉”.
- 猪肉 /zhūròu/ pork
- 牛肉 /niúròu/ beef
- 鸡肉 /jīròu/ chicken
- 羊肉 /yángròu/ lamb
- 肉食动物 /ròushí dòngwù/ carnivorous animal
Note that when you say “肉” without specifying the type of meat, most people will assume you mean “猪肉” (pork) because it’s the most commonly consumed meat in China. But what about other types of meat? If you want to order beef, chicken, lamb, or other meats in a restaurant, simply use the appropriate attribute words like “牛” (niú) for beef, “鸡” (jī) for chicken, and “羊” (yáng) for lamb before the character “肉” to form “牛肉” (niúròu), “鸡肉” (jīròu), “羊肉” (yángròu), and so on.
When discussing a specific dish, you may be familiar with the famous food “烤鸭” (kǎo yā) roasted duck, but you won’t hear “duck meat” in Chinese as often. Instead, people usually refer to the meat as “鸭” (yā) alone, without adding “肉” after it. This practice is not unique to duck meat. People also use “鱼” (yú) to refer to fish meat without adding “肉”. Furthermore, for carnivorous animals, you can simply say “肉食动物” (ròushí dòngwù) to describe them.
早点儿去菜市场，早上的猪肉会新鲜点儿。(Zǎo diǎn’r qù càishìchǎnɡ, zǎoshɑnɡ de zhūròu huì xīnxiān diǎn’r.) Go to the market early because the pork in the morning is fresher.
吃火锅的时候，他特别喜欢吃牛肉。(Chī huǒɡuō de shíhou, tā tèbié xǐhuɑn chī niúròu.) He likes eating beef while eating hotpot.
这碗米线的浇头是鸡肉做的。(Zhè wǎn mǐxiàn de jiāotóu shì jīròu zuò de.) The topping of this rice noodle dish is made of chicken.
For fruit and seasoning
- 果肉 /guǒròu/ pulp
- 肉桂 /ròuguì/ cinnamon
As its name suggests, “果肉” (guǒròu) literally refers to the “meat” of a fruit, which is actually the pulp. When discussing “肉桂” (ròuguì), it’s important to first mention its counterpart “桂皮” (guìpí). In China, “桂皮” is not only a popular seasoning in cooking, but also a commonly used Chinese herbal medicine. “肉桂” is a species in the Lauraceous family, and it’s named so because it’s thicker than “桂皮”.
这个饮料里真的有果肉吗？(Zhèɡe yǐnliàolǐ zhēnde yǒu ɡuǒròu mɑ?) Does this drink really have pulp in it?
他喝咖啡的时候喜欢加肉桂。(Tā hē kāfēi de shíhou xǐhuɑn jiā ròuɡuì.) He likes to add cinnamon when drinking coffee.
- 肌肉 /jīròu/ muscle
- 肉眼 /ròu yǎn/ unaided eye
- 肉身 /ròu shēn/ mortal body
- 血肉 /xuè ròu/ blood and flesh
- 有血有肉 /yǒuxuè yǒuròu/ true to life
- 行尸走肉 /xíng shī zǒu ròu/ an utterly useless person
- 肉票 /ròu piào/ hostages
People often use “肉” to describe human attributes. For muscles, we use “肌肉” (jīròu), which sounds similar to “鸡肉” (jīròu) but uses a different character. “肉眼” (ròuyǎn) and “肉身” (ròushēn) emphasize the use of our eyes and body alone, without any external help. “血肉” (xiěròu) emphasizes our blood and flesh. The phrase “有血有肉” (yǒu xiě yǒu ròu) means to be “real” or “true to life,” and is often used in literary works.
There are two interesting expressions to describe people: “行尸走肉” (xíngshīzǒuròu) and “肉票” (ròupiào). “行尸走肉” literally means “walking corpse and running flesh,” but it’s a metaphor for a person who doesn’t use their brain, doesn’t work, and lives a confused life. “肉票” means “meat tickets” literally, but it usually refers to hostages who are taken for ransom.
刚运动完要拉伸一下肌肉。(Gānɡ yùndònɡ wán yào lāshēn yí xià jīròu.) You need to stretch your muscles after exercising.
这里太脏了，桌子上的灰都肉眼可见。(Zhèlǐ tài zānɡ le, zhuōzishànɡ de huī dōu ròu yǎn kě jiàn.) It’s so dirty here that the ashes on the table are visible to my naked eye.
我太喜欢这本小说里的主角了，有血有肉很生动。(Wǒ tài xǐhuɑn zhè běn xiǎoshuōlǐ de zhǔjué le, yǒu xuè yǒu ròu hěn shēnɡdònɡ.) I like the protagonists in this novel so much because he is true to life and very vivid.
能不能多思考一下，别像个行尸走肉一样。(Nénɡ bu nénɡ duō sīkǎo yí xià, bié xiànɡ ɡè xínɡ shī zǒu ròu yíyànɡ.) Can you think about it a little more? Don’t act like an utterly useless person.
他被绑了，会被当作肉票向他家里要赎金。(Tā bèi bǎnɡ le, huì bèi dànɡzuò ròupiào xiànɡ tā jiālǐ yào shújīn.) He was kidnapped and would be used as a hostage to ask his family for ransom.
- 眼中钉，肉中刺 /yǎn zhōng dīng, ròu zhōng cì/ (of someone) to be hated very much
- 手心手背都是肉 /shǒuxīn shuǒbèi dōu shì ròu/ to value both equally
- 骨肉 /gǔròu/ blood relation
The word “骨肉” is used to express blood relation and means bones and flesh literally. The saying “眼中钉，肉中刺” literally translates to “a sting in the eye and a thorn in one’s flesh” and means a person is extremely hated in the heart of another. “手心手背都是肉”, literally meaning “the palms and backs of the hands are meat,” means all things involved are relative, so they should be treated equally, and you can’t choose to abandon anyone.
她就是我的“眼中钉，肉中刺”，我永远都不会原谅她的。(Tā jiù shì wǒde “yǎn zhōnɡ dìnɡ, ròu zhōnɡ cì“, wǒ yónɡyuǎn dōu bú huì yuánliànɡ tā de.) She is a thorn in my eye, and I will never forgive her.
你们都是她的女儿，手心手背都是肉，你让她帮谁？(Nǐmen dōu shì tā de nǚ’r, shǒuxīn shǒubèi dōu shì ròu, nǐ rànɡ tā bānɡ shuí?) You are all her daughters, so she should be equal to you all, and she will help nobody.
因为一场意外，王先生一家骨肉离散，直到五年后大家才相聚。(Yīnwèi yì chǎnɡ yìwài,Wánɡ xiānshenɡ yì jiā ɡǔròu lísàn, zhídào wǔ nián hòu dàjiā cái xiānɡjù.) Because of an accident, Mr. Wang’s family was separated and did not get together until five years later.
For feelings and characteristics
- 肉麻 /ròu má/ cheesy
- 性格很肉 /xìnggé hěn ròu/ introversion and reticence
“肉麻,” literally meaning numb flesh, means someone is excessively romantic to the point of making others feel uncomfortable and creeped out. “性格很肉” originates from a dialect and means someone is unresponsive and slow, causing others to feel anxious
看他们俩在那里互相喂东西就觉得肉麻。(Kàn tāmenliǎnɡ zài nàlǐ hùxiānɡ wèi dōnɡxi jiù juéde ròu má.) Watching the two of them feed each other there gave me goosebumps.
她性格很肉，你跟她说十句话，她才会回你一句。(Tā xìnɡɡé hěn ròu, nǐ ɡēn tā shuō shí jù huà, tā cái huì huí nǐ yí jù.) She is reticent, and if you say ten words to her, she will just reply with one.
The word “肉” forms many words and expressions, which are practical and useful in daily life. They can improve your spoken language and help you understand Chinese dramas and literature, so don’t underestimate their utility.
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Thanks Helen! As you say, 肉 generally means meat, flesh or pulp.
肉眼 (ròuyǎn) is an interesting expression, it means ‘naked eye’, I suppose in this case 肉 conveys the meaning of ‘naked’ or ‘raw’.
I always wondered why 肉 appears in the word for cinnamon: 肉桂 (ròuguì). Do you know? My guess is that here, 肉 also means ‘naked’ or ‘raw’, since cinnamon comes from the raw bark of certain trees.