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The Year of Horse & The words of Horse

Do you know the Chinese Zodiac? It is a systematic plan of future action and relates each year to an animal according to a 12-year cycle. There are twelve animals representing the twelve Earthly Branches which can be used to symbolize the year when a person is born. 2014 is the Year of Horse in China. Horse is a kind of important animal which conveys some positive meanings such as talents, strong sprits, and diligence and so on. Let us see how the character “马” (mǎ) has changed from ancient to modern time.


Besides the literal meaning of the animal horse in Chinese, for example, “千军万马”(qiān jūn wàn mǎ) which means thousands upon thousands of horses and soldiers—a powerful army, “马”(mǎ) and it also has a metaphor meaning such as tall. There is a phrase called “人高马大”(rén gāo mǎ dà) which describes some people as big and strong. For example,

(yuē hàn suī rán rén gāo mǎ dà,dàn bù líng húo,wǒ kě yǐ dǎ bài tā)
Though John was big and strong, he was muscle-bound and I could defeat him

Girls also use “白马王子”(bái mǎ wáng zǐ) to express their prince charming, and you can imagine a handsome man riding a white horse comes to you so that is why we use the horse to say the men that girls loved most in Chinese.

In addition, there are some stories related with the horses and they become fixed words. A word called “马马虎虎”( mǎ mǎ hū hū) in Chinese comes from an ancient story. In Song Dynasty, a painter who was always careless drew a head of tiger and a body of horse and then made the two connected in one picture to create a strange animal which cannot be known whether it was a horse or a tiger. So “马马虎虎”(mǎ mǎ hū hū) means careless or passable, not so bad ,not so good, just so-so.

他就是我的白马王子。( tā jiù shì wǒ de bái mǎ wáng zǐ)
He is just my prince charming.

他的汉语讲得马马虎虎。(tā de hàn yǔ jiǎng de mǎ mǎ hū hū)
He speaks passable Chinese.

Do you know any words about 马(mǎ)? Jsut please leave your message below.

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Helen Fang

Helen is a master of Teaching Chinese as A Foreign Language. She worked in South Korea for one year to teach Chinese in Confucius Institute. She has published some thesis relating to teaching Chinese on “Chinese teaching and research”. Many years learning and teaching make her put the theories into practice. Now, she is working as senior Mandarin teacher at TouchChinese.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. the article conveys explictly the various meanings of word “horse”,especially the vivid meaning in Chinese lunar new year.
    really impressive

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