Has anyone seen my face?

One of the things I like about Chinese is that it tends to be quite module-like. There are lots of little structures that you can just modify with new nouns, adjectives or what have you, to create entirely new meanings.

A couple examples:

越 … 越 …

越(来)越(好) | yuè lái yuè hǎo | better and better (lit. more come more good)
越(有钱)越(好) | yuè yǒu qián yuè hǎo | the more money the better (lit. more have money, more good)

又 … 又 …

又(闷)又(热) | yòu mēn yòu rè | stuffy and hot
又(懒)又(馋) | yòu lǎn yòu chán | lazy and gluttonous

But my all-time favourite of the bunch is the “… to death” structure.

… 死了

累死了 | lèi sǐ le | extremely tired (lit. tired to death)
饿死了 | è sǐ le | starving (lit. hungry to death)
撑死了 | chēng sǐ le | stuffed (lit. full to death)
吓死了 | xià sǐ le | scared to death

Well, all of that is a little lesson lead up to the newest modification of this Chinese phrase to enter my vocabulary:
丢死人了 | diū sǐ rén le | embarrassed to death

It was the end of class Thursday and as the other students were filing out to go find lunch I noticed I had a message from the Mrs. As wives (or husbands for that matter) are prone to do, she sent me a short list of things to pick up on my way home. These lists can contain all sorts of items… milk, bread, duck hearts … just your typical shopping list.

However, my wife, knowing I’m trying hard to use Chinese as much as possible, sometimes includes items in Hanzi, or if she thinks I might not know the characters, in pinyin. The last item on the list was one that even in pinyin I couldn’t recognize. As I was in a Chinese class with a rather kindly Chinese teacher just a few feet away, I figured I’d solve the mystery and ask her.

And so it was I found myself asking my teacher what “bi yun tao” is. She screwed up her face and said she didn’t know, while quickly leaving the class. With a couple classmates, I pondered over its possible meaning, but couldn’t come up with it. We got as far as “tao” possibly meaning ‘peach’.

Bìyùntào, as those brighter than me are sure to know, means condoms.


24 Responses

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *