Beyond The Mask: A Sample of Mandarin Morphology

Morphology, if you didn't know, is quite simply, the study of making words. The Chinese language has remained distinct enough from other languages for long enough so that it never picked up on antiquated root words nor fancy grammatical cases. Most people who look at a batch of Chinese text simply see what appears to be a complex language. However, anyone who has studied the language long enough to see it "beyond the mask" knows that Chinese are humorously blunt when it comes to making up words. In this article, we'll examine some terms, of different kinds, to show you how the Chinese brain truly see the world.

Just as a disclaimer, this isn't quite in the same realm as "Chinglish", which are examples of mis-translated English text, often humorous, seen in and around China. Instead, this is a different kind of "art", where we will take away the mask of Chinese characters, so to speak. By breaking each character down into an equivalent word or idea, we will show you how Chinese people truly see the world around them. You will often find that while other languages developed based on antiquated words (Latin and Greek certainly come to mind), Chinese often keeps a very "blunt" nature to its vocabulary. In some cases, you may even find that looking at each character with its literal meaning will help you easily remember the character or word. Let's take a look at a few examples, shall we?

搞笑中文的词汇 (Gāoxiào Zhōngwén de Cihui) - Very Funny Chinese Vocabulary
xǐ hēi qián
Literally, "to wash black money", this refers to a big Chinese problem of laundering money
niú zǎi kù
You could probably guess that "cowboy pants" are a way to refer to the US fashion staple of jeans
While scandals happen anywhere, how many countries call them "ugly news"?
diàn fú tī
What is an escalator anyway? Nothing more than an "electric ladder" really.
zhuō mí cáng
Which sounds more to a kid? Hide and seek or "Capture the Lost Hiders"?
cháng jǐng lù
Any guesses what a "long neck deer" is? If you guessed giraffe, you'd be right.
jù hé méi
Polymerase is a bit obtuse, but "assemble enzyme" aptly describes its function, assembling DNA

We hope this article has provided a bit of humorous insight into the Chinese mind!